Tag Archives: Cavell

Pick On Someone Your Own Size

Like most things on my mind these days, I must begin this entry in an academic way. A professor—who I will allow to remain anonymous—expressed his concern over Stanley Cavell’s early written works in the Winter of `08. He explained that Cavell was picking on the more insignificant critics of his work, and that he might have better spent his time addressing “greater minds.” What a troubling notion for me: I spend much of my time discussing philosopy with laymen (comparatively speaking), whether they realize it or not. Cavell may have wasted his time, but I am not sure of this. I am almost certain that I am wasting my own. After all, much of what I have to say is lost upon many, and personal victory has been reduced to the successful teaching of some esotetic concept. Perhaps it isn’t the best use of my time, if my aim is to make some sort of progress.

I do not mean to sound melancholy, nor do I mean to condemn those with no plans to read Nietzsche. I only seek to express doubt, uncertainty, and caution. It becomes less clear what is academically relevant, what methods are acceptable to your peers (especially if it your thoughts are inarticulable in any other fashion or if your peers aren’t accustomed to those methodologies), and who should be addressed. If I talk the language of modal logic in an argument with my mother (she is no philosophy professor), it will look as though I am bullying her—bludgeoning her with some specific and (from her perspective) useless knowledge. She (and most people I’ve come to know) would rather I not speak to her that way at all. But what else am I supposed to do when a friend says, “I have a philosophical question for you.” We have to use a gentle hand, but does that mean forgetting our education entirely?—as if that were possible (for me) without heavy drugs.

I like to believe that Stan Cavell was trying to ground his work in the “real world,” or in things he felt were more relevant than mere shop-talk. I like to believe that I am trying to figure out how knowledge can be more accessible for those who do not want to waste their years figuring out what Kant means by “transcendental.” These beliefs, however, may turn out to be convenient (or inconvenient, if you’re the lazy sort) fictions.