'Becoming Who We Are' clarifies the political and existential aspects of Stanley Cavell's understanding of ordinary language and of skepticism, and shows the close connection between his reception of Kant, Heidegger, and Austin and his exploration of what Emersonian Perfectionism offers to democracy and modern life.
Stanley Cavell's unique contributions to the study of epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, film, Shakespeare, and American philosophy have all received wide acclaim. But there has been relatively little recognition of the pertinence of Cavell's work to our understanding of political philosophy. The Claim to Community fills this gap with essays from a wide range of prominent American, English, French, and Italian philosophers and political theorists, as well as a lengthy response to the essays by Cavell himself. The topics covered include Cavell's (...) understanding of political community, philosophical anthropology, moral perfectionism, the positivist distinction between fact and value, political friendship, the differences between political and aesthetic disagreement, political romanticism, “the pursuit of happiness,” tragedy, and race. There are also evaluations of the ways Cavell's positions on these and other matters compare with those of Plato, Aristotle, Montaigne, Kant, John Stuart Mill, Thoreau, Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, Hannah Arendt, Carl Schmitt, Peter Winch, Wittgenstein, and Fred Astaire. This volume will be of great interest to political theorists and political philosophers, as well as to students of literature and film. (shrink)
In this article I compare and contrast Hannah Arendt’s and Stanley Cavell’s understandings of critique, focusing in each case upon the role played in it by skepticism. Both writers are decisively influenced by the later Heidegger’s thought that thinking as such is, first, the necessary turn to a practice adequate to our situation and, second, something that we shun. They also share the desire to take up this Heideggerian thought in Kantian terms: what is at stake is critical thinking. It (...) is here, however, that they part ways, with Arendt insisting that critique is as incompatible with skepticism as it is with dogmatism, and Cavell insisting that skepticism is the central moment within critique. Arendt’s attempt to ban skepticism from critique forces her into the contradictory position of at once denying and affirming the role of dogma in critical thinking. Cavell, in contrast, is able to shed light consistently upon the question of how citizens might best respond to the new – a task, ironically, that is a... (shrink)
One common way to conceive of political community and its relation to political judgment is to argue that my judgment reflects my community because I identify myself with it. This allows for a categorical distinction between the public (citizen) and the private (bourgeois) that in turn grounds civic virtue and common sense. Nancy, however, argues that this reifies community in ways that are continuous with totalitarianism, and that community is better understood in Heideggerian "ecstatic" terms. However, because Nancy does not (...) give as helpful an account of judgment his contribution to political theory reveals itself as a utopian picture of a world in which political judgment-and, hence, politics itself-is written off as a misreading of our ontological condition. (shrink)
In this essay I distinguish the Phenomenology’s account of the French Revolution and Terror from the Philosophy of Right’s. Understanding the former’s discussion of the “Furie des Verschwindens” of Absolute Freedom requires an appreciation of the hopes and fears raised by the Enlightenment’s Nützlichkeit, the precise structure of “Absolute Freedom and Terror,” and the fact that Verschwinden for Hegel denotes a mode of non-corporeal negation that allows particulars to reveal a universality that they themselves are not. Read in this light, (...) the Phenomenology’s account better explains actual political experience than does the Philosophy of Right’s critique of “negative freedom.”. (shrink)
In this essay I provide a reading of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner that focuses upon the question of the kind of creatures the Replicants are depicted as being, and the meaning that depiction should have for us. I draw upon Stanley Cavell's account of the problem of other minds to argue that the empathy test is in fact a mode of resisting the acknowledgment of others. And I draw upon Martin Heidegger's account of authenticity and mortality to argue that this (...) acknowledgment is crucial if one would become human. The film does not so much suggest that Replicants are, as such, human, but rather that humanity is won through the encounter with the inauthentic. (shrink)
Ernesto Laclau's theory of antagonism and political identity has been widely celebrated as one of the most promising attempts to apply the lessons of poststructuralism to political theory. This essay argues, however, that this initial promise is not fulfilled. Laclau's attempt to define and analyse the political as such operates at such an abstract level that Laclau is forced to make sweeping claims about the nature of politics and identity that he simply cannot support; and his analysis of the decision (...) that he claims defines politics is an unrealistic one that celebrates violence, and could have the wide appeal it has had only in a political culture that understood freedom as the absence of all constraint, rather than the achievement of autonomy. Key Words: antagonism autonomy decision freedom hegemony identity Laclau the political rule-following Wittgenstein. (shrink)
The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben is having an increasingly significant impact on Anglo-American political theory. His most prominent intervention to date is the powerful reassessment of sovereignty and the politics of life and death laid out in his multivolume _Homo Sacer_ project. Agamben argues that in both the modern world and the ancient, politics inevitably involves a sovereign decision that bans some individuals from the political and human communities. For Agamben, the Nazi concentration camps—in which some inmates are reduced to (...) a form of living death—are not a political aberration but instead the place where this essential political decision about life most clearly reveals itself. Engaging specifically with _Homo Sacer_, the essays in this collection draw out and contend with the wide-ranging implications of Agamben’s radical and controversial interpretation of modern political life. The contributors analyze Agamben’s thought from the perspectives of political theory, philosophy, jurisprudence, and the history of law. They consider his work not only in relation to that of his major interlocutors—Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, and Martin Heidegger—but also in relation to the thought of Plato, Pindar, Heraclitus, Descartes, Kafka, Bataille, and Derrida. The essayists’ approaches are varied, as are their ultimate evaluations of the cogency and accuracy of Agamben’s arguments. This volume also includes an original essay by Agamben in which he considers the relation of Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence” to Schmitt’s _Political Theology_. _Politics, Metaphysics, and Death_ is a necessary, multifaceted exposition and evaluation of the thought of one of today’s most important political theorists. _Contributors:_ Giorgio Agamben, Andrew Benjamin, Peter Fitzpatrick, Anselm Haverkamp, Paul Hegarty, Andreas Kalyvas, Rainer Maria Kiesow, Catherine Mills, Andrew Norris, Adam Thurschwell, Erik Vogt, Thomas Carl Wall. (shrink)
Michael Oakeshott provides the best articulation of the widespread view that the moral foundations of the modern state limit it to the defense and maintenance of a system of formal rules governing individuals and non-state enterprises. While this understanding of the proper relation between individual and state has been challenged by liberals of a more Rawlsian persuasion, these criticisms have persuaded few to change their minds, as they rest upon assumptions that are plainly incompatible with the view under consideration. I (...) argue that, rightly understood, central and attractive features of Oakeshott’s own conception of understanding, philosophy, individuality, and education lead to significantly different conclusions than those embraced by Oakeshott himself. The “morality of individuality” upon which Oakeshott rests his strict restrictions on the use of state power requires that we be open to the use of that power to guarantee that all receive the education postulated by individuality. (shrink)
It is commonly recognized that Jean-Luc Nancy’s efforts to elaborate a conception of ‘the political’ are based upon Heidegger’s thinking of die Tecknik , even as they seek to overcome the difficulties that beset Heidegger’s own politics. But few have noted that Nancy also seeks to critically engage Carl Schmitt’s conception of das Politische , according to which there is a metaphysical and practical need for a sovereign decision on friends and enemies if effective political community and law are to (...) be possible. This article argues that recognizing that Nancy seeks to overcome Schmitt’s conception of the political throws into high relief his failure to address the actual subject matter of politics. In the end, Nancy remains too metaphysical to engage with the political. (shrink)
: In the Aristotelian tradition, politics is a matter of public deliberation over questions of justice and injustice. The Bush administration's response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has been uniformly hostile to this notion, and it has instead promoted a jingoistic politics of self‐assertion by an America largely identified with the executive branch of its government. This is doubly disturbing, as the executive branch has sought to free itself from international law, multinational commitments, and domestic judicial regulation, (...) even as it has sought to validate itself by demonizing its enemies. This essay draws out the disturbing echoes here of Carl Schmitt's work of the 1920s, in particular of Schmitt's conception of the sovereign as the ungrounded ground of the law and the political as the site of mortal conflict between friend and enemy. The essay argues that Schmitt's position in the twenties, for all of its evident problems, is superior to that of Bush, Wolfowitz, and Ashcroft in at least two senses: Schmitt condemns the idea of waging war for profit and recognizes that such wars will often be disguised as moral crusades waged against the “inhuman”; and he acknowledges that claiming to fight a war for humanity denies one's enemies their humanity, leaving them open to torture and even extermination. (shrink)
John Dewey’s conception of democracy as the political form devoted to the maximum individual self-realization of the citizenry, in the broadest sense of that term, promises to lift democracy above angry populism while avoiding untenable and contentious metaphysical commitments. The idea of self-realization is traditionally tied to a hierarchical and therefore unacceptable model of society. Dewey breaks this tie by stripping the idea of its metaphysical commitments. But Dewey requires supplementation. I argue that Dewey’s own insights can be best kept (...) alive by being read in light of Stanley Cavell’s understanding of Emersonian Perfectionism, in particular the latter’s focus on the failure of the self to realize itself and its ordinary resistance to doing so. Bringing this Romanticism to bear upon Dewey’s ideas would temper them in important ways, preserving and developing what is best in the rich conception of democratic citizenship he has left us. (shrink)
Des lecteurs de droite ou de gauche ont soutenu que la dernière partie de l’œuvre de Wittgenstein présentait un intérêt pour la pensée politique en raison de supposées attaques contre le « rationalisme politique ». Selon ces critiques, la politique est un domaine dans lequel la délibération rationnelle est strictement limitée et repose finalement sur une décision..
This essay explores Hannah Arendt’s contribution to our understanding of the rhetorical as opposed to the aesthetic quality of public speech, with an emphasis upon her conception of opinion and glory. Arendt’s focus on the revelatory quality of public action in speech is widely understood to preclude or seriously limit its communicative aspect. I argue that this is a misunderstanding, and that accepting it would reduce speech not merely to the discussion of a sharply limited set of topics, but to (...) no topics at all. Public action is speech that reveals the speaker as “answering, talking back and measuring up to whatever happened or was done.” Such revelatory speech is most appropriately judged by the standard of the glorious and the inglorious. Because such speech must inform as well as reveals, so does glorious or great speech rise to the level of greatness in part because of what is said, to whom, where, and how. Arendt’s understanding of this is shown to have significant parallels to the ordinary language philosophy of Stanley Cavell. (shrink)
We invited five Cavell scholars to write on this topic. What follows is a vibrant exchange among Paola Marrati, Andrew Norris, Jörg Volbers, Cary Wolfe and Thomas Dumm addressing the question whether, in the contemporary political context, Cavell’s skepticism and his Emersonian perfectionism amount to a politics at all.
This study examines how hunger narratives and performances contribute to a reconsideration of neglected or prohibited domains of thinking which only a full confrontation with the body's heterogeneity and plasticity can reveal. From literary motif or psychosomatic symptom to revolutionary gesture or existential malady, the double crux of hunger and disgust is a powerful force which can define the experience of embodiment. Kafka's fable of the "Hunger Artist" offers a matrix for the fast, while its surprising last-page revelation introduces disgust (...) as a correlative of abstinence, conscious or otherwise. Grounded in Kristeva's theory of abjection, the figure of the fraught body lurking at the heart of the negative grotesque gathers precision throughout this study, where it is employed in a widening series of contexts: suicide through overeating, starvation as self-performance or political resistance, the teratological versus the totalitarian, the anorexic harboring of death. In the process, writers and artists as diverse as Herman Melville, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Christina Rossetti, George Orwell, Knut Hamsun, J.M. Coetzee, Cindy Sherman, Pieter Breughel, Marina Abramovic, David Nebreda, Paul McCarthy, and others are brought into the discussion. By looking at the different acts of visceral, affective, and ideological resistance performed by the starving body, this book intensifies the relationship between hunger and disgust studies while offering insight into the modalities of the "dark grotesque" which inform the aesthetics and politics of hunger. It will be of value to anyone interested in the culture, politics, and subjectivity of embodiment, and scholars working within the fields of disgust studies, food studies, literary studies, cultural theory, and media studies. (shrink)
This dissertation evaluates the efforts of modern philosophers of aesthetics and politics to distinguish judgment from both cognition and volition. To see the rule under which any given particular is to be subsumed as a law fabricated and imposed by either God or reason is to characterize free judgment in terms of sovereignty. This generates the skeptical dilemma of an infinite regress of the legitimacy of the rule's application that can only be avoided by seeing the act of judgment as (...) an act of will. Such a voluntarist account of politics and judgment must in the end deny plurality for identity, and efface the categorical Aristotelian distinction between the public and the private. The rejection of the teleology of publicity is thus tied to the collapse of phronesis back into a Platonic techne that strives to produce society and man in the image of the eidos. ;Three "solutions" to this aporia are considered. The first is Hannah Arendt's appropriation for politics of Kant's aesthetic judgment, which allows for categorical distinctions between the public and the private and between judgment and the observance of rules. This project fails on account of the extreme formalism of that aesthetics. The second reads the third Critique as an allegory of politics. This too fails, as Kant's aesthetic community relies upon the productive legislation of the genius, a figure whose lineage reaches back to the half divine, half bestial figure of Machiavelli's founding prince. The third is a direct return to Aristotle. While his ethical philosophy offers us our best account of phronesis and epieikeia, it does not sufficiently engage the motivations for its own rejection. Hobbes, Locke, and Kant were not so taken with the model of mechanistic science that they simply forgot that in their common lives they regularly made judgments without the implicit or explicit guidance of a rule. The modern is better seen as a Weltanschauung, less a description that might be right or wrong than a desire. The alternative to the aporia of judgment is not found in the aesthetic but in a Wittgensteinian form of philosophical therapy. (shrink)
In this article I argue that hope is rightly numbered by Hesiod among the evils, as hope cannot be separated from an awareness of the inadequacy of one's current state. Political hope for democrats in particular is tied to the awareness that we have not yet realized ourselves, that, to paraphrase Pindar, we have not yet become who we are. I argue that, although Rorty comes close to articulating this in his book Achieving Our Country, his emphasis on pride ultimately (...) obscures more than it reveals. I conclude that Thoreau's anguished reflection in Walden on the failures of his fellow citizens is a better place to look for instruction on the question of political hope. (shrink)