Abstract

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 Cavell’s work for philosophy was a point of controversy. Now there is little reason to worry or complain that his work is not getting sufficient attention, so this essay is not undertaken in a mode of defense or complaint, but instead in a mood of wonder. I am interested in the phenomenon and practice of reading Cavell’s writing--work that appears 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 reading Cavell. My invocation of Cavell’s notion that "philosophy becomes the education of grownups" is meant to associate the aesthetics of reading Cavell’s work with the more general experience of education as it continues into maturity, regardless of discipline.

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