You are on page 1of 24

7KH(GXFDWLRQRI*URZQXSV$Q$HVWKHWLFVRI5HDGLQJ

&DYHOO
David LaRocca
The Journal of Aesthetic Education, Volume 47, Number 2, Summer
2013, pp. 109-131 (Article)
3XEOLVKHGE\8QLYHUVLW\RI,OOLQRLV3UHVV
DOI: 10.1353/jae.2013.0011

For additional information about this article


http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/jae/summary/v047/47.2.larocca.html

Access provided by Michigan State University (6 Aug 2015 23:20 GMT)

The Education of Grown-ups:


An Aesthetics of Reading Cavell1
DAVID LAROCCA
But then I think of how often I have cast the world I want to live
in as one in which my capacities for playfulness and for seriousness
are not used against one another, so against me. I am the lady they
always want to saw in half.
Stanley Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness

Just as there was a time when it was uncommon, not to say unfashionable
and perhaps professionally treacherous, for philosophers to write about
Ralph Waldo Emerson, there was also a time when the pertinence of Stanley
Cavells work for philosophy was a point of controversy. For some philosophers, as well as literary scholars who read and use work by philosophers,
Cavells achievements were in evidence early and consistentlyeven as he
ably ventured into new fields of research such as opera, film, Shakespeare,
the American Transcendentalists, and so onand writing about him did not
pose a problem but instead offered the pleasure of reading and commenting. Yet even with many points of critical celebration along the way, there
was a long stretch when Cavells place in, and impact on, philosophy and
other humanistic fields was either marginalized or in doubt. It seems that as
the repression of Emerson has been overcome, so too the trial period for
Cavells full membership has elapsed. Now there is little reason to worry or
complain that his work is not getting sufficient attention. In the last half dozen years, for example, there have been as many international conferences
celebrating his work, and as Cavell himself notes in his 2010 autobiography,
David LaRocca, PhD, is Writer-in-Residence in the F. L. Allen Room at the New York
Public Library and a Fellow at the Moving Picture Institute in New York. He is the
author of On Emerson (Wadsworth, 2003), and the editor of Stanley Cavells book
Emersons Transcendental Etudes (Stanford University Press, 2003) and The Philosophy
of Charlie Kaufman (University Press of Kentucky, 2011), and Estimating Emerson: An
Anthology of Criticism from Carlyle to Cavell (Bloomsbury Academic, 2013). His articles
on aesthetic theory, autobiography, film, and American philosophy have appeared
in Epoch, Afterimage, Transactions, Liminalities, Film and Philosophy, Midwest Quarterly,
and the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.
Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 47, No. 2, Summer 2013
2013 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

110LaRocca
Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory, there are now roughly as many
books on my work as works by me.2 Cavell has said that while he may be
the victim of unfortunate timing, his academic life has, for all its complications and disappointments, been charmed, and that being odd and,
staying odd has its benefits, including remaining, however precariously,
contemporary.3 It may be precisely Cavells belatedness, as I have heard
him refer to it, that contributes to the careful and ongoing reception of his
work, since it can often take time to find ones best readers.4
Given the improving and continually hopeful condition of Cavells inheritance, I do not proceed here in a mode of defense or complaint, but instead in
a mood of wonderas a philosophical anthropologist might when inquiring
after the rituals and beliefs of a tribe. I am interested in the phenomenon and
practice of reading texts that, because of their power, are capable of inspiring
new writing while also causing the inspired to feel afraid of, or otherwise
estranged from, the work. Panicked by its pedagogical force, a reader trying
to write new things may be led to defer or diminish the work that inspired
those new things, finding that the inspiration suffocates new initiatives in
prose. In this essay I attend closely to how these and other issues in the aesthetics of reading appear when engaged with the interpretation of Cavells
writing, noting along the way what might be called the manner or sensibility
of his works diverse range of inheritors as well as their philosophical commitments and reservations. Being summoned to thought by writing does not
mean one knows what to do with it, much less how to produce new work of
comparable quality. And yet reading and writing must go on.
Why should the nature of inheriting Cavells writing be of interest to a
group larger than, say, his most devoted readers and supporters? First, because the phenomenon, while made concrete in Cavells case, is sufficiently generic to warrant a wider fascination with everything from a readers
self-consciousness as a reader to a readers encounter with the criteria that
make up her professional interests, including the categories with which
she conducts scholarship. Thus my invocation, in the title of the present
essay, of Cavells notion that philosophy becomes the education of grownups is meant to associate the aesthetics of reading Cavells work with the
more general experience of education as it continues into maturity, regardless of discipline.5
Cavells writing is especially pertinent to an audience interested in the
aesthetics of education, because he has both argued and exemplified (in his
own writing) how, as he finds in Thoreau, reading is a variation of writing,
where they meet in meditation and achieve accounts of their opportunities;
and writing is a variation of reading, since to write is to cast words together
that you did not make, so as to give or take readings.6 Since Cavells work
perpetually occupies that space of meditation, owing to its fundamental
awareness of itself as enacting the interplay of writing and reading, the

The Education of Grown-ups: An Aesthetics of Reading Cavell111


audience for his prose is naturally broader and more diverse than the realm
of strictly defined professional philosophy. Like Thoreau, Cavell has transformed and enlarged the space where philosophy is said to occurthat is,
where such readings can be given and taken. Consequently, the aesthetics
of reading Cavell reveals to us how his writing is primarily conducted as a
form of education for grown-ups.
Secondly, the present investigation can be taken as part of a larger project of finding interest in the ways philosophical works are inherited by the
culture they are intended for or addressed to. Mine is a limited undertaking
with modest aspirations, but it is, hopefully, worthwhile nonetheless for the
way it suggests the specific difficulty of inheriting Cavells work, which is,
for some, connected to an understanding about the specific claim it makes
on its readers. Since critique and analysis are grounded in the practice of
reading, it may be highly relevant to consider those moments of blindness,
deafness, and other forms of obscurationleading variously to avoidance,
deferral, or disavowalthat show one hasnt been reading after all.
At least for the time being, then, perhaps we can take up positions as
readers and inheritors of Cavells work and thereby face an issue that has
been present all along but, for good reasons, has been confused with the
initial or early problem of neglect or marginalizationnamely, how to read
Cavell and write about his work in ways that honor the achievements of the
work while also going on from it. For many years it seemed that complaints
about Cavells work as personalor some version of the playful and serious mentioned in the epigraphobstructed his readers. What had earlier
seemed like a criterion for dismissal or exclusion is now, in many fields of
research (from feminist philosophy to anthropology, from political theory
to film studies), a principal feature of his works attraction. And yet the personal, among other quintessential attributes of his work, remains an issue
for readers and critics since it amplifies Cavells achievements even while
it problematizes how those achievements can be assessed and analyzed. In
short, we are now in a position to ask not whether Cavell should be part of
our mainstream in philosophical and literary thinking but how we can ably
interpret his work. This is precisely what prompts me, on this occasion, to
take a closer look at a few instances of Cavells critical inheritance by scholars, mainly philosophers, in order to elucidate and clarify what new kinds
of reading methods we might prefer to adopt, avoid, or innovate when
reading his work.
Some years ago Richard Eldridge began his edited volume of essays
Stanley Cavell with an introduction titled Between Acknowledgment and
Avoidance, in which he aimed to orient readers to the questions that
animate Cavells work, including its range and ambition.7 More recently,
Eldridge, now collaborating with Bernie Rhie on an edited volume of essays titled Stanley Cavell and Literary Studies: Consequences of Skepticism,8 has

112LaRocca
continued theorizing what remains of perennial interest to some readers of
Cavells work: the occasional, but still prominent, instances when his work
is in some form or another neglected or awkwardly esteemedas we find
in moments of misreading, as well as nonreading or disengagement. As famous and influential as Cavells work appears to be (again, the evidence
of myriad monographs, anthologies, articles, and conferences on his work
attests to this fact), it can often seem as if those features of acclaim hide a pernicious and counterintuitive fact: that scholars, perhaps especially scholars
who should benefit from his work, do not seek to deeply engage it or wed
themselves to it professionally. As a form of intellectual history, then, I propose to spend a little timein the wake of Eldridge and Rhies workin the
midst of some ideas and texts that illuminate features of Cavells reception
in academic scholarship, more particularly, in philosophy.
Eldridge and Rhie suggest that part of the work of reframing Cavells
writing is intimately caught up with a therapeutic uncovering of the resistances that have led to the repression of his voice and work in the past. The
two taskstaking up the critical past so as to engage productively with interests and work that lie, so far, aslant of Cavells, and reanimating his work
for the futuremust go hand in hand.9 Eldridge and Rhie direct their introductory remarks to the sources of resistance that inhabit literary studies,
and it seems highly plausible to count these as the same points of resistance
among some philosophers.10 Two qualities, or we might say presumptions,
of Cavells work that may have generated the allergic reaction that Eldridge and Rhie diagnose are highly pertinent to what follows in the present
investigation: (1) Cavells appeal to ordinary language is entered precisely
when the very existence of any we is in doubt, and claims to what we say
are by their very nature vulnerable, naked, and exposed (subject to rebuke,
indifference, or any other number of ways such claims might misfire); and
(2) humanism pervades Cavells writing.11 As Eldridge and Rhie suggest,
and I think reasonably encourage, it is incumbent upon Cavells readers to
critically explore what it would mean to achieve a new or transformed we
... consisting of new or transformed subjects, who have entered into this
new we from the resources of their own subjectivities.12 And in so doing,
one imagines, readers will be in a position to appreciate Cavells sense that
there is nothing more uncanny than the human, and therefore nothing
more worthy of our dedicated attention.13 In conversation Cavell has defined the primary paradox of his work as the conflict between his deeply
democratic impulse and his writing style. The paradox, to be sure, depends
on the assessment that Cavellhis voice, a presence that promotes his allegiances to humanismcomplicates the reception of his work in philosophy
and other fields in the humanities.
Eldridge and Rhies project is so helpful and illuminating precisely because it makes evident the two issues that have shadowed Cavells work

The Education of Grown-ups: An Aesthetics of Reading Cavell113


from the very beginningnamely, the contestation of inclusion/exclusion
in an academic community (e.g., the we of philosophers or any other type
of scholar), and the challenge of defining and defending ones capacities
for inclusion/exclusion in the human community. The two are, it appears,
vitally and frighteningly bound together in Cavells work. This intimacy,
of course, has had consequences, which Eldridge and Rhie explore along
with the contributors to their volume, among them that the reclamation of
the human self against its neglect by modern thought is as necessary and
urgent today as it was when Cavell first began his long career.14 In an important and surprising way, then, regardless of how we want to describe
Cavells relation to mainstream philosophy and literary studiesas being
resisted, repressed, neglected, causing allergies, and so onwe should take
seriously the way in which his work provokes these reactions because it is
exemplary in its achievement of reminding us of the central role of the human community and the human subject. Therefore, the trouble is impersonal
after all. It just has felt personal because Cavell so steadfastly holds to his
conviction in these important questions. Part of my work, then, is to disambiguate between these personal and impersonal factors. For example, to
analyze concrete instances when Cavell is read by others in order to consider
how his writingin content and styleitself enables or resists reading. I
am interested in how the interaction between reader and text illuminates
something interesting about both: how we learn things about Cavells writingas much as his readersby the moments that exist between acknowledgment and avoidance; or in instances when acknowledgment becomes
an occasion of apologyin both sensesas an expression of ones regret or
lapse and as a kind of defense, excuse, and justification. In all such cases we
are presented with illustrations of our continual and difficult effort to read
well, a project that in Cavells writing is thoroughly bound up with the very
nature of being human.
As I move ahead to consider some points of resistance or complication in
reading Cavells work, I also want to contribute a few more factors that, if
they are not exclusive to reading Cavell, are at least exacerbated by the writing we have inherited from him. Adding to (1) and (2) above (drawn from
Eldridge and Rhie), I continue with (3) that precisely because Cavell has
said tone is so important to ones writing, that in philosophy it is the sound
which makes all the difference, his voice can, at times, overwhelm the reader to the degree that when she turns to writing of her own, especially writing
about Cavell, the prose can seem to be an enacted paraphrase.15 Imitation
may be a form of flattery, but in Cavells estimation, ones voice is precious,
and not a feature a writer should mimic or arrogate; indeed, Cavells prose
reinforces our awareness of the embeddedness of content and style. Given
our proximity to Emersons texts, we might consider instead that for Cavell
imitation is more akin to suicide than compliment. In short, the objective

114LaRocca
for any reader of Cavell is to write about him with ones own voice. The
impulse to paraphrase Cavells voice is understandable: his philosophical
acumen and personal volubility are intoxicating, entrancing. Some cannot
help, it seems, but wish to adopt his voicesuch as it is possible, such as
they canas a way of managing troubled hopes for exceptional expression.
Living with the fear that one has no voice, or not a consistent voice for philosophical prose, Cavells distinctive style is an easy mark for paraphrase.
The risk of paraphrase when writing about Cavell is coupled with a further complication: (4) the art of quotation. How much quotation from Cavell
is enough when one risks losing touch with the seam between ones own
voice and Cavells? Bringing Cavell quotations into ones written work, it
sometimes seems, threatens ones own chances for distinctive expressionas
if his prose and the voice it containsis always potent enough to overpower
even ones best efforts at vital composition. After a few quotations one may
become hypnotized by Cavells presence on the page and soon enough give
over to paraphrase and other forms of rehearsing his texts and arguments.
Furthermore, the extensiveness of Cavells writingits diversity of subjects
that are yet bound up with a unity and clarity of purposemake it highly
tempting to simply quote Cavell as a way of explaining Cavell. Cavell, it often seems, is his own best interpreter, and thus may be confidently invoked
to convey authority and insight. Indeed, in the last decade or so Cavell has,
when invited, undertaken significant labor to preface, conclude, or otherwise respond to many books and anthologies on his work. Is this a form of
authorizing that lends credibility to the new scholarshipa kind of consecration by its subject? Or does Cavell agree to write as part of some wish
to engage a community of scholars he finds himself desiring to be a part of,
however belatedly it emerges? Or does Cavell write preludes and codas to
guide the inheritance of his work, to control the interpretations presented by
his r eadersas if all can be said as long as he has something to say about it?
The art of quotation coupled with the practice of paraphrase leads to a
further issue, and the penultimate one I will enumeratenamely, (5) the
degree to which one can be taught without getting lost in the lesson.16 This
is a much more diffuse issue and lies at the heart of many theories of influence, such as we find in Harold Blooms work; indeed, Bloom refracts our
present concern when he writes: The critic of Emerson is little better off
than the biographer, since Emerson, again like Nietzsche and remarkably
akin to Freud, anticipates his critics and does their work for them. Emerson
resembles his own hero, Montaigne, in that you cannot combat him without
being contaminated by him.17 With Cavell the rewards one gains in reading
his workincluding the satisfaction of responses to perennial philosophical
conundrumsalso seem to invite contamination or court a certain disorientation. A reader can get lost in Cavells prosehappily, to be sure, but
then also and often anxiously. Having learned things from Cavell, one wants

The Education of Grown-ups: An Aesthetics of Reading Cavell115


to find a way back to ones page, ones own voice. Where was I? What was I
thinking? Cavells work, in all its competency and compellingly supple style,
can make these questions seemingly irresolvable. Therefore, it would be a
real service to know if, or how, one can be taught by Cavells texts how not
to get lost in them and, perhaps ideally, to know how to go on from his writingwhile still keeping it close at hand.
There are additional factors worth considering, as Michael Fischer notes
in Using Stanley Cavell, his review of recent anthologies of Cavell criticism edited by Richard Eldridge, Russell Goodman, and a third coedited by
Alice Crary and Sanford Shieh:
The contributors in these three volumes [Stanley Cavell, Contending
with Stanley Cavell, and Reading Cavell] all begin from the assumption
that Cavell, like the writers who have influenced him [e.g., Emerson, Thoreau, Austin, and Wittgenstein], remains marginalized even
though interest in his work has grown. But his isolation can be overstated. In an otherwise insightful essay on Cavells literary criticism
(The Avoidance of Stanley Cavell in Contending with Stanley Cavell),
Garrett Stewart laments the regrettable undercirculation of Cavells
ideas in literary studies and predicts that mainstream literary scholars will increasingly have a hard time with his writingStewart calls
it literary prosebecause it calls on reading skills that in the epoch of cultural studies, discourse analysis, and the semiotics of social
energy have atrophied. In the introduction to this same volume,
Russell Goodman offers a more measured, less pessimistic assessment
that gets Cavells peculiar professional status exactly right: Cavell
occupies a curious position in all the fields in which he works: he is at
the same time a major figure and one whose work people do not quite
know how to use.18
And yet Garrett Stewarts lament about atrophied reading skills seems just
the diagnosis we should be attending to; his concern seems squarely aligned
with the aesthetics of reading Cavellhow it is possible, and why it is important. If Stewart is overstating the reasons for his despair, we still need to
determine by how much. After all, Fischer concludes that the reception of
Cavells work will finally depend on his individual readers, so it would
seem that having readers equipped with skills to read that work is paramount.19 Still, the curious fact reflected by Stewarts assessment is precisely
that reading Cavell is not an issue that will go away or be resolved, and if
reading skills in general are imperiled, what are we to make of the prognosis
for specialized reading skillsthat is, just the kind of skills Cavells work
summons and demands?
While Fischer tries to get the true measure of Cavells isolation within
the mainstream, he adds another useful category to our taxonomy of issues:
(6) the conditions for teaching Cavell in the classroom and ways that practice

116LaRocca
is supported or hampered. Naoko Saitos The Gleam of Light: Moral Perfectionism and Education in Dewey and Emerson and her coedited volume with Paul
Standish, Stanley Cavell and the Education of Grown-ups, may go some way toward addressing Fischers own lament. Still, even in the wake of such work
on educational and pedagogical matters, Fischers concern may persist, as
he writes:
Complicating the use of Cavell in the classroom, his writing is still
under-anthologized, partly because his contributions to different disciplines remain unassimilated, partly because each of his essays is intertwined with his work as a whole, not to mention the writers he
draws on. Sampling him in an English department course on Shakespeare, for example, potentially puts the class in touch with unfamiliar figures such as Wittgenstein, much as introducing Cavell in a philosophy course can bring along American movies. Instead of adding
to a course, the excerpt from Cavell (thoroughly studied) thus risks
eclipsing it, one weeks assignment becoming the whole course.20
The very last pointabout eclipsingshows how the issue of teaching
Cavell in the classroom, noted above as (6), is intimately bound up with
earlier issues, especially (3) paraphrase, (4) quotation, and (5) orientation
within the text.
The foregoing taxonomy describes attributes of one kind of reader, but
there is another kind that is just as interesting: not the reader who finds
Cavells work overwhelming but, as it were, the reader who finds it underwhelming. This latter kind of reader, one who may in a certain sense be deaf
to Cavells particular tone, or dismissive of his methods and intellectual references, should not himself be dismissed as misguided or ignorant. As much as
I am intrigued by the issues stated above (1 through 6) and the impact they
might have on a scholars life, I am also interested in the occasions when
Cavells work is inaudible or otherwise unavailable to intelligent, highly
competent, celebrated readers and critics. What accounts for this seemingly
radical divide? Anecdotal, but salient, evidence suggests that the reception of
Cavells work is split into two primary modes of engagement: radical devotion (including reading and referencing his work; perhaps being hypnotized
by the sound of his voice) and radical dismissal (remaining unable to have
an ear for his prose and project). Having already devoted time to the former
side of the divergence (again, 1 through 6 above), for the next few pages I
explore the latter phenomenon with an emphasis on Cavells expertise on
Emersonin particular, how his contributions to Emerson scholarship have
been received among philosophers. I aim to provide a small cross-section of
instances in which Cavells work is read by philosopherstwo of them, we
might say, who cite his work but do not engage it, and two of them who, in
writing monographs on his work, deem it necessary to address the nature of
his writing and its potential for intelligibility and pertinence.

The Education of Grown-ups: An Aesthetics of Reading Cavell117


When nearly forty years ago Stanley Cavell asked Why has America
never expressed itself philosophically? Or has it. . . ? the query had more
to do with putting up for debate the criteria of what counts as philosophical
than with founding such criteria by finding this or that text to fulfill them.21
If America has expressed itself philosophicallyin the work of Emerson
and Thoreau, as Cavell suggestswhy is this appraisal unknown to us, or
why, if familiar, does it sound odd to say it, to claim it? A reply to Cavells
question is not difficult because we dont have evidence to show Americas
philosophical expression, but, rather, because we are unsure what we mean
by the term philosophical. It is no wonder that our inheritance of Emerson
and Thoreau, much less Cavell, has been problematical. As a kind of echo
across the decades, then, we might want to ask in reply: how does America
express itself philosophically when the thinkers it produces call into question the nature of philosophical expression? That is, thinkers who take the
question of philosophy itself as central to the activity of philosophizing.
Because Cavell, like Emerson before him, altered the nature of what might
count as philosophy, he may complicate the chances that others will recognize it as such.
It it not my intention to criticize or embarrass fellow scholars for their
use, or their neglect, of Cavells work (or for that matter Emersons). If my
tone belies this genuine desire and I come across as disparaging, it is a fault
of my prose, not my mood. My intention is inquisitive, not punitive. I am
interested in the phenomenon of reading Cavell, not judging whether it is
being done according to a preexisting or preconceived standard. I dont presume there is any way to predict how a writers work will be or should be
read; what we have here instead are limited occasions and instances of that
reading. I tried to write this essay using generalizations and wider trends,
but it wasnt nearly as instructive until I employed extremely precise, empirical cases. I decided that I could add a further hedge against offending
colleagues and readers by drawing the examples from the work of philosophers I admire.
Finding ways to read Cavell may be usefully informed by a closer look at
how Emerson was, and sometimes still is, received in academic philosophy.
And we need look no further than Cavells own crucial series of contributions to that inquiryfor example, where he asks in earnest perplexity why
philosophy in its professionalization recurrently represses Emerson
as a philosopher.22 To repress him means, in part, to deny him a voice in
philosophy, and thus to deprive him relevance to the projects and problems
philosophers hold dearwhich it seems philosophers believe Emerson does
not cherish; or if they grant that he does, they contend that he is either insufficiently articulate or rigorous to handle them. Or when Emersons work is
sufficiently clear and robust, it is not speaking to philosophy, or philosophically. Though Cavell has written of this condition many times and over the

118LaRocca
course of many years in many disparate texts, his consternation is legitimate,
not a consequence of curricular paranoia. Cavell is no conspiracy theorist.
The worry, as it might best be described, is not just that Emerson has been
deprived a deserved place in the conversation of philosophy, but that there is
something peculiarand tellingin the fact that he has been deprived such
a place. Cavell does not have to argue for Emersons membership card; merely writing about Emerson, as Cavell does, contributes to this habilitation.
Cavell instead inquires after what it is or might be about Emerson that so
upsets or offends or confuses the professionals of philosophymoments of
intellectual allergy that in themselves should be of interest to philosophers.
Much of the secondary literature on Emerson is written from departments
of English, literary studies, American studies, comparative literature, history, education, and, increasingly, political theory. Those who write about Emerson from these places, as if I were speaking of certain embassies of thought
with their own perceived but undefined and undeclared boundaries, often
make reference to Cavells work. In an effort to achieve a fair assessment
of who is writing mainstream academic studies of Emerson, I attempted to
select a representative sample of work. In a review of fifteen fairly recent
books on Emersonincluding eight monographs, three anthologies of secondary essays, and three compendiums of Emersons workonly one of the
thirty-five authors was cited as a professor of philosophy.23 A similar ratio is
found in The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism, where among forty-three
contributors, only one teaches in a department of philosophy.24 One of the
two philosophers in the sample, Stephen L. Esquith, in an essay that aims
toward an Emersonian theory of democratic citizenship, finds room only
to footnote a reference to Cavells Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome: The
Constitution of Emersonian Perfectionism.25 Cavells name is not mentioned in
the essay, and there is no explanation in the note why Cavells book should
be consulted on the point under discussion. Such a silence seems peculiar
after reading Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome, where the question of
democratic citizenship is among the most honed and nuanced that we have.
Had I selected books on similar subjects that were written by professors
of philosophy, ipso facto the paucity of philosophers in this demographic
would diminish. But are there such books? Certainly there are philosophers
writing about Cavell and Emerson whose works should be cited, many of
them collected in edited volumes noted above, such as Stanley Cavell, Contending with Stanley Cavell, Reading Cavell, and Stanley Cavell and the Claim
to Community.26 I think these anthologies give us the best evidence and intimation of how writing about Cavells Emerson can look from within a
community of philosophers. And there are an ever increasing number of
exceptional single-author books by philosophers writing about Cavell, including Russell Goodmans American Philosophy and the Romantic Tradition;
Stephen Mulhalls Stanley Cavell: Philosophys Recounting of the Ordinary; Si-

The Education of Grown-ups: An Aesthetics of Reading Cavell119


mon Critchleys Very Little, Almost Nothing; and Espen Hammers Stanley
Cavell: Skepticism, Subjectivity, and the Ordinary.27 Given the authors ambitions, the works understandably have Cavells Emerson as only a portion of
a larger project. And yet, work that takes up Cavells Emerson more explicitly and centrally, such as Paul Grimstad and Branka Arsis The Other Emerson, is comprised mainly of scholars in fields other than philosophy, aside
from Goodman, Sandra Laugier, and Cavell (who wrote the afterword). In
The Gleam of Light: Moral Perfectionism and Education in Dewey and Emerson,
Naoko Saito, a professor of education, draws Cavells Emerson into the core
of her project to enrich Deweys theory of progressive education through
an encounter with moral perfectionism. In Saitos coedited book with Paul
Standish (who is also a professor of education), Stanley Cavell and the Education of Grown-ups, they and their contributors address pedagogical theory
and educational philosophy in Cavells work, with its abundant references
to Emersons notions of instruction, tuition, and quotation. In Cavell, Companionship, and Christian Theology, Peter Dula considers Cavells relevance
to ecclesiology and highlights the moral perfectionism Cavell finds in Emerson (and Nietzsche); he teaches in a seminary and in a department called
Bible and Religion. In American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas,
Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, a professor of history, devotes a section of her
final chapter to Cavells claim that Nietzsche helped America find Emerson
again. In Stanley Cavells American Dream: Shakespeare, Philosophy, and Hollywood Movies, Lawrence Rhu, a professor of English, Renaissance studies,
and Shakespeare, dedicates his eloquent book to studying the convergence
and elaboration of three major subjects in the philosophy of Stanley Cavell:
Shakespeare, Emerson, and Hollywood Movies. (The trade of Emerson
for Philosophy in the subtitle of the book appears to generate a marketing decision with philosophical import.) In Listening on All Sides: Toward an
Emersonian Ethics of Reading, Richard Deming, a poet and literary critic who
teaches in a department of English, develops a model of literary ethics inspired by Cavells assessment of Emerson and related initiatives in ordinary
language philosophy and contributes new thinking about Emersonian
modernism that meaningfully illuminates the poetics of Wallace Stevens,
William Carlos Williams, and others.28 In American Spaces of Conversion:
The Conductive Imaginaries of Edwards, Emerson, and James, Andrea Kurston
builds on the scholarship of Cavell, work she notes that has clarified
the coordinately repellent and attractive aspects of Emersons style; she,
too, teaches in a department of English.29 After these occasions of reading
Cavells work on Emerson, I simply note that while philosophers continue to expand the field of interest in Cavell generally (from film studies to
Shakespeare to ordinary language philosophy, and even posthumanismas
seen in Philosophy and Animal Life, edited by Cary Wolfe and his colleagues
a collection populated by philosophers), the work that gets done on Cavells

120LaRocca
Emerson tends, in large measure, to be done by scholars who do not identify
themselves as philosophers.30
In an issue of the journal Transactions of the C. S. Peirce Society, the philosopher Vincent Colapietro writes approvingly of Hugo Mnsterberg, encouraging American philosophers to make use of his writing as they would
work by William James, Josiah Royce, and George Santayanaall familiar,
now canonical, names in philosophy.31 Yet Colapietro creates a surprising
categorical wedge when in the same essay he adduces film theorists such
as Sergei Eisenstein, Andr Bazin, Christian Metz, Siegfried Kracauer, Roland Barthes, and . . . Stanley Cavell.32 Why is Cavell part of the second
list, and not part of the genealogy of the first? Why isnt Cavell listed as a
philosopher who writes about film instead of as a film theorist? Is that a difference Cavell makes possible or makes interesting for us; or is it a difference
that contributes to his miscategorization and misreading? The distinction
may be of interest only to those with patience for the politics and rhetoric
that divides philosophers from one another, and one academic discipline
from anotherdivisions that are often as vigorously defended as they are
vaguely defined. Should we then understand this move of overt inclusion
(viz., Eisenstein, Bazin, Metz, ... Cavell) as simultaneously a move of (unintended?) exclusionof dismissal? It might make sense to think of Cavell
as a film theorist when reading The World Viewed, Pursuits of Happiness, or
Contesting Tears, yet isnt that workas defined by its philosophical preoccupations as its filmic onessufficient to restrain an impulse to see Cavell
primarily as a film theorist? After all, what sort of film theorist could produce Must We Mean What We Say? and The Claim of Reason? Or what kind of
philosophical authority does a film theorist have when writing about the Bible, Kant, Shakespeare, Emerson, and Wittgenstein? Thinking of Cavell first
as a film theorist creates what might be counted as an unwarranted habit
of denying him a philosophical voice. To depersonalize the critiquetaking
the weight off Colapietrowe can simply ask if the resistance or denial is
part of an unarticulated disciplinary convention in philosophy, a silence that
in turn makes it impossible to identify or amend.
Colapietros article, with endnotes as long as the essay, offers one such
note to Cavell. In it he cites Cavell as a notable exception to the habit
of American philosophers who omit any sustained considerations of film.33
Observe how in his endnote Colapietro positions, or repositions, Cavell as a
philosopher. Colapietro is pointing out the novelty of this American philosopher who writes on film, as opposed to, say, so-called continental philosophers who write about film apparently without the subject matter posing a
problem for their status as philosophers. Yet does Colapietros emphasis on
American turn this moment of acknowledgment into a moment of apology? He writesin an endnote: But even counting Cavell as someone who
in some measure and manner truly represents American philosophy makes

The Education of Grown-ups: An Aesthetics of Reading Cavell121


my point: he is the exception to the rule. He is an American philosopher (it
would be unfair, not simply ungracious, to deny him this status) who is
concerned with the philosophy of film; his efforts in this regard make him
somewhat exceptional.34 Are Colapietros italics meant to signal a moment
of disciplinary distinction between the American philosopher and the Anglo-American or analytic philosopher? To be the former, it is presumed, one
must take seriously the work of transcendentalists and pragmatists. To be
the latter, it is also presumed, one must find the work of logical positivists,
the Vienna school, and certain varieties of scientism of central importance.
Neither of these descriptions are comprehensive, but merely indicative. Colapietros attempt to be fair and gracious, which we can presume is genuine,
nevertheless highlights how philosophers are trained to categorize themselves and others and signals the difference that contributes to how they are
treatedfor example, and more concretely, how they are read and if they are
read. Thus if Colapietros description leads in some instances to distraction,
it can also, paradoxically, be the occasion for just the sort of institutional
recognition Cavells work would need in order to be readand taken seriouslyin certain circles. Somehow the diminishment and habilitation of
ones work may be caught up in the same process. I have been calling this
process reading.
While there are now robust forums of discussion on Cavells work by philosophers, the variability of Colapietros description suggests that many instances remain in which other philosophers approach Cavell with hesitancy
or reverenceperhaps ending with an occasion of citing his work in order to
go on from him, or without him. The citation is thus honorific, another case
of acknowledgment that nevertheless confirms disengagementan excuse
for not dealing with his writing. The fact that Colapietro felt he had to say
such things about Cavellto remind his audience, an audience comprised
largely of American philosophers in a premiere journal of American philosophy, that Cavell is an exception to the rulemay have the unintended consequence of reigniting the question of Cavells location in philosophy, perhaps
even more peculiarly, his legitimacy as a philosopher. Given the taxonomy
adduced above (16), I suspect that readers of Cavells work will continue to
struggle with the alternation between deference and deferral.
Another illustrative endnote appears in George Stacks Nietzsche and Emerson: An Elective Affinity. On the second page of his book, Stack, a professor
of philosophy, writes, like Colapietro, of Cavell being an exception to a rule:
A number of American literary critics have, from time to time, called
attention to the linkage between Emerson and Nietzsche, but they
have not delved into the detailed nature of this curious association.
Ironically, the American deconstructionist critics who have probed
and dismantled Nietzsches texts seem to be uninterested in or unaware of his relationship to Emerson. Even though a few American

122LaRocca
philosophersnotably Stanley Cavellare cognizant of the connection between the central figure of literary transcendentalism and the
philosopher of the will to power and the transvaluation of values,
they have not pursued this rich and revealing clue to some of the major and many of the minor themes in Nietzsches philosophy.35
Stack does not pause on Cavells status in the academythat Cavell is an
American philosopher goes by without any self-consciousness or disciplinary defensiveness. What does emerge, however, is that Cavell is mentionedalone, apparently without matchas being the one American
philosopher who does see in Nietzsches work lines of consanguinity with
Emerson. Readers who are familiar with Cavells early and extensive development of the influence of Emerson on Nietzsche will recognize the nature
of Stacks understatement: Cavell is much more than cognizant of the relationship. A similar understatement appears in Colapietros qualified endnote, where he finds Cavell in some measure representative and somewhat exceptional.
Stacks endnoteone of only two on Cavell in the entire nearly fourhundred-page booklike Colapietros endnote, pushes Stacks assessment
of Cavell to the side, making it an aside. Yet unlike Esquiths quick bibliographical reference to Conditions, Stack writes three pages on Cavells work
in the miniature, compressed space that defines endnotes. But why is this
extensive series of remarks hidden away? Why does Stack find that he has
so much to say about Cavell, and yet not the initiative or desire to include
those remarks in the flow of his chapter? Does writing about Cavell seem
to him a diversion from his argument? Stacks thesis in this book is that
Emersons influence on Nietzsche is still largely unknown or, if recognized,
disavowed. Intriguingly, it is precisely in support of his thesis that Stack
mentions Cavellas having touched upon the association between Emerson and Nietzsche in a perceptive way.36 The connotations of touching
upon a topic are clear enoughin terms of being superficial or of passing
interest or without much extended considerationand gravely misapplied
to Cavells seminal work on the topic. So why is Cavells perceptive way
of addressing and advancing the topic not welcomed into the main text?
In Stacks seventy-line endnote there seems to be a crucial admission that
Cavell has some insightful things to say about Emerson and Nietzsche.37
Yet much of what Stack admits in his note seems mentioned primarily as
an opportunity to demonstrate his own theses and theories about the two
nineteenth-century writers. More than once Stack writes that Cavell parallels my own independent perception of the same phenomenon.38 It would
appear that Stacks appraisal of Cavellas an American philosopher who is
cognizant of the influence of Emerson on Nietzsche and who has done
a great deal to rejuvenate Emerson as a thinker who ought to be taken seriouslyshould make Cavell an exceptional, perhaps the only, voice suited
to complement Stacks lengthy argument. Granted, Stack does not set out

The Education of Grown-ups: An Aesthetics of Reading Cavell123


to write about Cavells interpretation of Emerson and Nietzsche. Yet are we
not intrigued why a philosopher writing about Emerson and Nietzsche in
1992when works such as The Senses of Walden, In Quest of the Ordinary, This
New Yet Unapproachable America, and Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome
are already well establishedwould keep Cavells contributions to the idea
of Emerson as a thinker who ought to be taken seriously sequestered in
back matter? After saying in his lengthy endnote that Cavell has attempted
to rejuvenate an interest in Emerson as philosopher and to overcome the
repression of Emerson in American philosophy, Stack does not seem to
appreciate that this so-called rejuvenation would be of immense service to
his books thesisand yet, was there ever a time when Emerson was known
as a philosopher? If not, then Cavell does not rejuvenate this idea so much
as give birth to it.39 In acknowledging Cavells contribution of trying to overcome Emersons repression, Stack appears to repress Cavells rejuvenation
of Emerson.
Of course I accept that the non-Cavell texts I cite and the places where
those texts have appeared will be read as anecdotal, perhaps incidental
again, though, hopefully not taken as cited with accusation. Why, after all,
should such attention be devoted to a couple of endnotes written by philosophers? I hope to have shown why these moments of clear acknowledgment summon ones concern about disciplinary practices of readingincluding citation and interpretationand more specifically the aesthetics of
reading Cavells writing. What in the shape or tone or content of Cavells
prose prompted these instances of furtive inheritance by philosophers? It
neednt be the case that the kind of acknowledgment we see in Colapietro
and Stack is a form of apology, though that is possible, but rather that it
suggests philosophers may have a troubled relationship with praise. As I
stated at the beginning of this essay, though, praise in the ordinary sense of
acclaim and recognition is not what Cavell stands in need of; rather, the need
is for something more like the possibility of ones finding or discovering that
ones work is known or otherwise recognized for what it is and makes possible for othersnamely, as writing that addresses the particularity and the
humanity necessarily implied in the education of grown-ups.
Recall when Cavell discusses the reception of his work by J. L. Austin,
and he is at first disparaged and subsequently angered by the silence with
which his writing was received.40 Cavell takes this reminiscence as an occasion to highlight a lesson in the economies of praise, which he says made
it quite impossible for me to be realistic about the degree to which any
work I do can be known.41 What is the work Cavell may be said to do? And
once such work is known, how can we know it as his? Imagining a situation
in which he was asked to tersely encapsulate the raison dtre of his massive The Claim of Reason, Cavell replied: to help bring the human voice back
into philosophy.42 I put these responses in apposition to show the degree
to which the silence and voice of philosophy are both aspects of speech,

124LaRocca
and if we are to account for a knowledge of Cavells work, it will be done
fittinglyin some fashion of acknowledgmentthat is, neither as apology
nor as praise. The puzzle or paradox of inheriting Cavells work, like that of
inheriting Emersons, is knowing how to find or sense when our reading lies
between apology and praisethat is, in the space of acknowledgment. However, this acknowledgment is not something attributed to Cavells writing
but to ones own reading of it. The acknowledgment dawns precisely when
reading begins: we recognize Cavell sufficiently to recognize ourselves
in other words, when the claims of this particular human subject suddenly
connect to the claims of the human community; when Cavells prominently
personal style sounds like it can join a conversation of other voices.
Cavell has addressed how the quality of Emersons writing is tied to
his fate in philosophy. I wonder whether we ought to consider the quality
and the fate of Cavells writing as sharing in this history and anthropology
of inheritance. What Cavell says here of Emerson we might read in sympathetic disbelief as perceptibly self-reflexiveif unfortunate, and as yet
without explanation:
It is the sort of outbreak that seems to explain straight off why Emerson is the writer about whom it is characteristically insisted, continuing
in the 1980s as in the 1840s, by admirers as much as by detractors, that
he is not a philosopher, accompanied (proven?) by the repetitive finding of his prose to be a fog (sometimes intensified as metaphysical) or
a mist (sometimes tempered as golden). The mystery is that anyone
would, under that description of his prose, take the trouble to deny
that he is a philosopher.43
Cavell has certainly had less trouble earning name recognitionand accoladesas a philosopher than Emerson, but the question of Emersons writing as a fog or a mist seems to parallel familiar accusations of Cavells
writings as a place where one loses ones orientationfor good or ill, as
noted above in (5). In Cavells case, his voice is repeatedly cited as contributing to the difficulty of navigating his proseas if the person or the
personal were an encumbrance to satisfying and intelligible philosophical
writing instead of a cause for its manifestation. Why is a reader not guided
by Cavells voice instead of thrown off by it?
If Cavells work is sometimes invoked in order to be shelved, perhaps
we should not only ask what is going on in philosophy that his work
would not be taken up in straightforward ways, but also what is going on
in Cavells writing that makes such an integration and appropriation difficult? As Russell Goodman notes above, it seems that Cavell is well known
but not yet or not often enough well read. Are the writers who are provoked to write in response to his work able to find their way not just in their
prose but in the profession?

The Education of Grown-ups: An Aesthetics of Reading Cavell125


In conversation Cavell has asked whether he is responsible for how his
work has been received, and, more recently, in Little Did I Know he dedicated
appreciable space to a firsthand assessment of this responsibility: he admits
that he wishes to understand why episodes of his interpretation make certain readers impatient, since that reaction tends to make the reception of
my work as a whole grudging, even when its results are not challenged.44
This fact, Cavell adds, is something that has caused me considerable disquiet over the years.45 Since affirmed, however, what does or should Cavells
responsibility look like? And why would one be led to believe that such
culpability was his, and not, say, ours? There are several philosophers who
have not only extensively and eloquently engaged Cavells work but who
have also staked something of their own work and reputation on Cavells
viability and significance. Admittedly, some of these works transfer another valence of anxietyone that leads their authors to defend themselves,
their subject, before the argument begins. Stephen Mulhall commences his
foreword to Stanley Cavell: Philosophys Recounting of the Ordinary, which he
titles An Audience for Cavells Philosophy, by saying: A key motivation
behind the writing of this book is therefore to overcome the undeserved but
deleterious consequences of the belated discovery and the unfashionable
tone of Cavells philosophy.46 And he concludes his opening remarks with
an assurance:
It might be best to think of this Foreword as an attempt to make initially plausible the possibility that many of the obstacles in the way of
establishing an audience for Cavells philosophyof recognizing it as
philosophy at allare not only internal to the nature of his particular
project (and therefore unavoidable but not necessarily insuperable)
but are also central topics within it and so fundamental to Cavells
self-understanding. In other words, and to a degree that is both exhilarating and threatening, his readers are likely to find that the difficulties they most often encounter in gaining access to Cavells thought
are something that he has already identified and explored within it.47
Timothy Gould, in Hearing Things: Voice and Method in the Writing of Stanley
Cavell, initiates his study by suggesting that Cavells reception in philosophy
is partially a result of what may be called certain failures to hear what Cavell
is sayingas if Cavells voice gets in the way of our capacity to register its
sense. How can we account for this kind of deafness in ourselves? And if
training is needed to hear such things, how we do undertake it, or know that
we are in need of it?
Cavells very insistence on the human voice might have been heard
as an effort to make the struggles concerning the voice into a theme
for philosophy. ... Instead, Cavells writing is heard as his insistence
on his own particular voice. ... The interlocking network of these

126LaRocca
c oncepts of voice, style, and personal manner has tended to confine
the discussion of Cavells writing within a series of sterile controversies. ... Thus one fate of his writing is to raise issues and controversies about itself that obscure precisely the original issues that the
writing was intended to raise.48
It is difficult to adjudicate whether Goulds is an apt description of someone
whose philosophical writing has betrayed itself or of a community that has
betrayed someones philosophical writing. In this way, explaining Cavells
philosophy to others as Mulhall and Gould aim to do is complicated by the
burden of having to explainor, depending on the audience, to defend or
defeatcertain prevailing habits of reading his work; or as Stewart suggested above, degeneration in reading habits and aptitudes more generally. Tuition in this respect is akin to a reeducation in reading, where certain sounds
that have been perennially muted or drowned out or otherwise unheard
come back into an audible sonic register.
If Mulhall and Gould, both philosophers, begin this way, should we infer
that writing about Cavell requires more from us than writing about some
other philosopher? Does such writing, first of all, require a justification for
heeding Cavells voiceperhaps dangerously, as a prelude or a coda to ones
own? Does Cavells writing impel or compel a more explicitly confessional,
autobiographical, or personal manner as part of that response? Is it this
question of style, not content, that most often repels, confuses, or incites?
Has style become content or, as Cavell has asked: What does it betoken
about the relation of philosophy and literature that a piece of writing can be
seen to consist of what is for all the world a philosophical essay preceding,
even turning into, a fictional taleas it happens, a fictional confession from
a prison cell?49 In this light, writing about Cavell is more aptly seen as writing about oneselfwhere the act of criticism becomes self-critical, where the
moments of vision are realized as revisionseeing, or seeing anewperhaps something familiar but as yet unseen. Philosophy in this key is critical,
autobiographical, and fictional. If this holds, then we share the trauma of
seeing our words and thoughts, as Emerson says, come back to us with
a certain alienated majesty.50 This discovery, however, is not one of relief,
but shame. It is not that Cavell has thought our thoughts, or thought all
thoughts that can be thought, but that he has thought them thoughtfullyas
if with his whole body, as if admitting in his writing that he has a bodyand
so a history, a personal history. This may be why writing about Cavell poses
the risk that more is getting said than one wants to sayor wishes others to
know. The only way to counter the risk is to admit that such confessions are
being made and that a writer should try, as Cavell has said, to take responsibility for every one of her sentences.
Can contemporary professional philosophy recognize its ancient origins
in spiritual exercises, as described for example by Pierre Hadot, where phi-

The Education of Grown-ups: An Aesthetics of Reading Cavell127


losophy matured through the methodology of autobiography and spiritual
confession?51 Today one will be recommended to write a memoir or a piece
of fiction but not to let such exposures inhabit a philosophical text. William
Rothman suggests that we not consider Cavells The World Viewed autobiographical but, instead, treat it as a metaphysical memoira distinction meant, we might assume, to make the work seem less personal and
thereby to inflate its philosophical credentials.52 But if a memoireven a
metaphysical oneengages a history of personal memories, then by virtue
of its intimacy with the self who writes in remembrance, it is also autobiographical.53 In the context of professional philosophy, it seems the distinction between memoir and autobiography, even when articulately defined
by Rothman, remains unconvincing as a method or style for such writing to
assume, at least consciously. In other words, Rothmans defense of Cavell
as writing a memoir instead of an autobiography does not save Cavell from
certain prevailing criticisms of his writing as a personal, self-reflexive, or
intimate. Until the appearance of Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory, a
work promoted as memoir, autobiography, epistolary, and even as philosophical diary, Cavells most overt and least self-conscious performance
of the interlacing relationship between philosophy and autobiography was
A Pitch of Philosophy: Autobiographical Exercises. In the books Overture
Cavell writes that there is an internal connection between philosophy and
autobiography, that each is a dimension of the other and that there are
events of a life that turn its dedication toward philosophy.54 Does the internal connection confirm the notion that philosophy is always autobiographical even when not consciously staged as suchthat is, even when
not presented with the directness and transparency we find in A Pitch of
Philosophy and Little Did I Know?
Cavells work stands as evidence that a philosopher need not abandon
his or her body in order to write philosophy. The memoirincluding its
fictionsis part of the process and the truths it illuminates: both immanent
and ineluctable. It would seem this description is not worth contesting in
Cavells writing, how much less worth denial: if A Pitch of Philosophy gave
us a first indication of how this is possible, Little Did I Know actualizes it to a
new degree. Writing about Cavell, it would seem, implicates a reader in this
kind of intimacy between bodies and texts and leaves him or her haunted by
the notion that philosophy depends on it. Perhaps this is why reading Cavell
instigates such strong readerly reactions, defined as they sometimes are by
attraction and sometimes by aversion.
The debate over canon formation and the establishment of philosophical authority continues to unfold. I am suggesting that insofar as we trace
certain lines of a genealogy and inheritance in philosophy, we might benefit
from how these specific reading practices rouse a continual self-reflection
on the nature, meaning, and potencies of reading more generally. Cavell

128LaRocca
escribes losing touch with this attention to difference as a cost of Richard
d
Rortys project, something achieved at the expense of giving up the question of the question of philosophy, of what it is, if anything, that calls for
philosophy now, in favor of an idea that we are, or should be, past interest
in the distinctions between philosophy and other modes of thought or of the
presentation of thought.55 It is clear that, for Cavell, getting past an interest
in such distinctions has a deleterious effect on our chances for recognizing
our interest in what defines our motives to undertake philosophy as a mode
of expression that calls its identity and inheritance into question. Yet to preserve our interest in distinctions and criteriawhat counts as philosophy
and whyreturns us to the very issues that have complicated the reading of
Cavells prose. Since the sound of writing makes all the difference, readers
must learn to hear the sound.56 The difficulty of hearing it in Cavells work
may, of itself, constitute one of its achievements.
In a forum for the journal Philosophical Investigations in which Cavell was
invited along with several others to offer remarks on his experiences reading Wittgenstein, he exposes the stakes of forcing disciplinary boundaries
in philosophynot because such a preoccupation is wasteful or embarrassing or at odds with the spirit of meaningful investigation, but because, in
palpable ways, it threatens to dispossess readers of their relation to, and use
of or for, philosophy. In other words, achieving a clear definition of what
philosophy is does not engender a safe domain where philosophy takes
place; rather, it deprives philosophy of its sanguinity with the world it aims
to serve and inhabitthe space that both inspires it and sustains it, even if
often with difficulty.
That the claim to philosophy has become inherently questionable is
part of my conviction about philosophy. So it will, as recently, fall
to me to be asked, for example, whether Walter Benjamin is to be
considered a philosopher. To get past the in a sense yes and in a
sense no response, I note that Benjamin is alive to the question of
whether I am in possession of my own experience, or instead follow
dictations laid down by profession or by fashion or by some more
private identification. . . .
So what? Am I prepared to conclude that Benjamin is a philosopher
if Wittgenstein is one? I am much more interested in whether the way
I have arrived at the conjunction has created philosophy in me.57
The fate of a work lies with its audiencewhether it can find one, and keep
one, and perhaps nurture one. And if it is understood that asking questions an
audience cannot or does not want to hear endangers a works viability, we can
either neglect the work or lean in closer to see what in the work solicits these
reactions. In one view the very thing that Cavells work makes possible for
philosophy is keeping alive the question of an ongoing inquiry into the nature
of philosophical investigation itself. Unlike the scenario Wittgenstein imag-

The Education of Grown-ups: An Aesthetics of Reading Cavell129


ines in which we are combating a trend that will die out and find ourselves in some future where the way we are arguing against it will no longer
be understood; people will not see why all this needed saying, the question
of what it means to speak philosophically, to manifest and maintain a voice for
philosophy, will be of perpetual significance.58 How strange to discover that
resistance to Cavells work may be coextensive with its availability for insight
into human expression. In short, these remarks about the nature or definition
of philosophical expressionwhat it means to speak philosophically and be
heard, to find or make readerswill always need to be said, addressed, reviewed and revised, and undertaken anew. Precisely because Cavells writing
engages the core of Emersons workon the writers life as a readerwe are
continually invited to an awareness of our relationship to texts. In our reading
we are called to attest to the aesthetics of that experience through our writing;
for Cavell, through such meditation philosophy becomes the education of
grownups. Our best hope, and not just as philosophers but as readers, can
only be addressed in a vigilant practice of reading and through provisional
reports on that experience through writingwork that shows how we create
and are created by the texts we read.

Notes
I wish to thank an anonymous reader for the journal for helpful remarks on an earlier
version of this essay.
1.

2.
3.
4.

5.
6.
7.
8.

One typographical usage note: in the original quotation from Cavell (1979)
philosophy becomes the education of grownupshe doesnt use a hyphen
in grownups. However, in all of Cavells subsequent work that references the
term, and in all the secondary literature by others, the hyphen is present. Thus, I
use the hyphen throughout the essay, save the times when I directly quote from
the 1979 source.
Stanley Cavell, Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory (Stanford, CA: Stanford
University Press, 2010), 304.
The quotations in this line are selected from Russell Goodman, ed., Contending
with Stanley Cavell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 17576, except the
term charmed, which is drawn from personal conversation with Cavell.
Among other occasions, Cavell commented on the nature of belatedness (as
it pertains to his work and its reception) at the conferences Stanley Cavell and
Literary Criticism (University of Edinburgh, 2008) and Stanley Cavell and Literary Studies (Harvard University, 2010).
Stanley Cavell, The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 125; Cavell mentions his account more
recently in Little Did I Know, 9.
Stanley Cavell, The Philosopher in American Life (Toward Thoreau and Emerson), Emersons Transcendental Etudes, ed. David Justin Hodge (Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press, 2003), 49.
Richard Eldridge, ed., Stanley Cavell (Contemporary Philosophers in Focus) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
Richard Eldridge and Bernie Rhie, eds., Stanley Cavell and Literary Studies: Consequences of Skepticism (New York: Continuum, 2011).

130LaRocca
9. Ibid., 3.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid., 45.
12. Ibid., 4.
13. Ibid., 6. See Stanley Cavell, The Uncanniness of the Ordinary, In Quest of the
Ordinary: Lines of Skepticism and Romanticism (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1988), 154.
14. Eldridge and Rhie, Stanley Cavell, 7.
15. Stanley Cavell, Must We Mean What We Say? A Book of Essays (Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press, 1976), 36n31.
16. For more on quotation and paraphrase in Cavells work, see my Reading Cavell
Reading, in Stanley Cavell, Literature, and Film: The Idea of America, eds. Andrew
Taylor and ine Kelly (New York: Routledge, 2013), 2641.
17. Harold Bloom, Mr. America, Estimating Emerson: An Anthology of Criticism from
Carlyle to Cavell, ed. David LaRocca (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 502.
18. Michael Fischer, Using Stanley Cavell, Philosophy and Literature 32, no. 1 (2008):
199.
19. Ibid., 203.
20. Ibid.
21. Stanley Cavell, The Senses of Walden (An Expanded Edition) (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1992), 3233, 123.
22. For example, see page 14 of Cavells In Quest of the Ordinary.
23. For brevity I note only the single-author monographs, in chronological order:
Pamela J. Schirmeister, Less Legible Meanings: Between Poetry and Philosophy in the
Work of Emerson (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999); Gustaaf Van
Cromphout, Emersons Ethics (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999);
Jonathan Levin, The Poetics of Transition: Emerson, Pragmatism, and American Literary Modernism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999); T. S. McMillin, Our
Preposterous Use of Literature: Emerson and the Nature of Reading (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000); Sam McGuire Worley, Emerson, Thoreau, and the Role
of the Cultural Critic (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001); Michael
Magee, Emancipating Pragmatism: Emerson, Jazz, and Experimental Writing (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004); Robert D. Richardson, First We Read,
Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process (Iowa City: University of Iowa
Press, 2009); and Branka Arsi, On Leaving: A Reading in Emerson (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).
24. Joel Myerson, Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, and Laura Dassow Walls, eds., The
Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
25. See Stephen L. Esquiths essay Power, Poise, and Place: Toward an Emersonian
Theory of Democratic Citizenship, in The Emerson Dilemma: Essays on Emerson
and Social Reform, ed. T. Gregory Garvey (Athens: University Press of Georgia,
2001).
26. Eldridge, Stanley Cavell; Goodman, Contending with Stanley Cavell; Alice Crary
and Sanford Shieh, eds., Reading Cavell (New York: Routledge, 2006); and Andrew Norris, ed., The Claim to Community: Essays on Stanley Cavell and Political
Philosophy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006). The Eldridge, Goodman, and Crary-Shieh volumes are reviewed by Michael Fischer in Using Stanley Cavell cited above.
27. Russell Goodman, American Philosophy and the Romantic Tradition (Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Stephen Mulhall, Stanley Cavell: Philosophys Recounting of the Ordinary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994); Simon
Critchley, Very Little, Almost Nothing (New York: Routledge, 1997); and Espen
Hammer, Stanley Cavell: Skepticism, Subjectivity, and the Ordinary (Cambridge:
Polity Press, 2002).
28. Paul Grimstad and Branka Arsic, The Other Emerson (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 2010); Naoko Saito, The Gleam of Light: Moral Perfectionism and

The Education of Grown-ups: An Aesthetics of Reading Cavell131


Education in Dewey and Emerson (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006);
Naoko Saito and Paul Standish, ed. Stanley Cavell and the Education of Grown-ups
(New York: Fordham University Press, 2012); Peter Dula, Cavell, Companionship,
and Christian Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); Jennifer RatnerRosenhagen, American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011); Lawrence Rhu, Stanley Cavells American Dream:
Shakespeare, Philosophy, and Hollywood Movies (New York: Fordham University
Press, 2006); and Richard Deming, Listening on All Sides: Toward an Emersonian
Ethics of Reading (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007).
29. Andrea Kurston, American Spaces of Conversion: The Conductive Imaginaries of Edwards, Emerson, and James (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 11, 94.
30. Stanley Cavell, Cora Diamond, John McDowell, Ian Hacking, and Cary Wolfe,
Philosophy and Animal Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).
31. Vincent Colapietro, Lets All Go to the Movies: Two Thumbs Up for Hugo Mnsterbergs The Photoplay (1916), in Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 36,
no. 4 (2000): 477501.
32. Ibid., 477.
33. Ibid., 479, 494.
34. Ibid., 494; italics by Colapietro.
35. George Stack, Nietzsche and Emerson: An Elective Affinity (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1992), 2.
36. Ibid., 62n5.
37. Ibid.
38. Ibid.
39. Ibid.
40. Stanley Cavell, A Pitch of Philosophy: Autobiographical Exercises (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1994), 56.
41. Ibid., 57.
42. Ibid., 58.
43. Stanley Cavell, Staying the Course, Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 22.
44. See Cavell, Little Did I Know, 192.
45. Ibid.
46. Stephen Mulhall, Stanley Cavell: Philosophys Recounting of the Ordinary (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1994), viii.
47. Ibid., xvi.
48. Timothy Gould, Hearing Things: Voice and Method in the Writing of Stanley Cavell
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 12.
49. Stanley Cavell, Being Odd, Getting Even, in In Quest of the Ordinary, 126.
50. Emerson, Essays and Lectures, 259.
51. Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault,
ed. Arnold I. Davidson, trans. Michael Chase (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1995).
52. William Rothman, Reading Cavells The World Viewed: A Philosophical Perspective on
Film (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2000), 35.
53. Ibid.
54. Cavell, Pitch of Philosophy, vii.
55. Cavell, Staying the Course, 15.
56. Cavell describes his essay Whats the Use of Calling Emerson a Pragmatist?
as a brief gloss on his observation that in philosophy it is the sound which
makes all the difference. See Cavell, Must We Mean What We Say? Must We
Mean What We Say? (New York: Scribner, 1969), 36n10; and LaRocca, ed., Estimating Emerson, 689.
57. Stanley Cavell, On Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations 24, no. 2 (2001): 9495.
58. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, ed. G. H. von Wright, trans. Peter Winch
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 43.