A Soteriology of Reading: Cavell's Excerpts from Memory

In James Loxley & Andrew Taylor (eds.), Stanley Cavell: Philosophy, Literature and Criticism. Manchester, UK: pp. 76-91 (2011)
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Abstract

"William Day is . . . concerned to explore the dynamics of what Cavell calls 'a theology of reading' through a careful examination of a fragment of the philosopher's autobiography first published as 'Excerpts from Memory' (2006) and subsequently revised for Little Did I Know (2010). If, as Cavell suggests, 'the underlying subject' of both criticism and philosophy is 'the subject of examples', in which our interest lies in their emblematic aptness or richness as exemplars, exemplarity becomes central to the aim of our reading. . . . Day considers how autobiography as a genre is preoccupied with the question of the author's exemplarity (Augustine or Rousseau), and in Cavell's retelling in 'Excerpts from Memory' he discusses how an event that Cavell would have us read allegorically - his move at the age of seven to a new apartment, his coming upon a familiar bowl containing nonpareils, his remark upon this to his father and his father's violent reaction - recasts a scene of paternal hatred as the child's offer of communion. Day suggests that this retelling proves to be redemptive: first, of the incident itself, and second, of the reader's own experience. Seeing how to read this autobiographical life as exemplary helps us to transfigure our own moments of deprivation into so many possibilities for freedom." --James Loxley and Andrew Taylor, introductory chapter to Stanley Cavell: Philosophy, Literature and Criticism, 15-16.

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William Day
Le Moyne College

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