Student Work for Philosophy 3387
Notes on Cavell
Heidi K Bollich
for: C. Freeland
This is a summary of Stephen Mulhall's reading of Cavell's Senses of
Walden (from Chapter 10 of Mulhall's Stanley Cavell: Philosophy's
Recounting of the Ordinary, Oxford: Clarendon, 1994).
For this reading it is necessary to define skepticism as a
failure to acknowledge something.
- -Cavell reads Thoreau as formulating a theory of language in order
to overcome skepticism:there is a need for "renewal" and Thoreau's
writing is the means for this.
- -Thoreau points up America's failure to acknowledge language; that
is, its specific criteria: it is autonomous due to its specific
meaning, but it also depends on the particular way it is used and
emphasized by the individual (i.e. language is also dependent).
- -In recognizing language, one assesses its conditions and
criteria; this reinvigorates speech and the community, for
language is a means of connecting individuals. One condition of
language as writing is that it is to be read; Cavell points up the
practical position of the reader and that it is a choice(this
involves the individual).
- Cavell sees Thoreau as helping the reader overcome despair by
causing the acknowledgement of both the autonomy of words and the
specific meaning the author conveys; the reader is brought in by
discerning the "spirit" of the writer (this allows distance for
the reader -- the ability to assess and critique).
- Thoreau places himself as disinterested to show the reader her
"lost but recoverable autonomy " which is needed to see the
poverty of our previous possession of common language and how rich
it can be (Mulholl 255).
- Thoreau does this by:
1. Emphasizing the name of something: "By a seeming fate, commonly
called necessity"(Walden Ch.1).
2. Sentences whose meaning in context requires an emphasis other
than the one their surface grammar suggests: "in eternity their
is indeed SOMETHING true and sublime" (Walden Ch.2 [caps indicate
3.Continued and extraordinary use of the term interest.
All of these serve to cause the reader to overcome skepticism by
taking an interest in life (via reading and engaging) and reevaluating
heretofore readily accepted notions.
© Copyright 1996 Heidi K Bollich
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