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Stanley Cavell and the Claim of Literature

, 304 pages
September 2013



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Stanley Cavell and the Claim of Literature

Stanley Cavell is widely recognized as one of America’s most important contemporary philosophers. His writings have attracted considerable attention among literary critics and theorists. Stanley Cavell and the Claim of Literature is the first monograph to comprehensively address the importance of literature in Cavell’s philosophy, and, in turn, the potential effect of his philosophy on contemporary literary criticism.

David Rudrum dedicates a chapter to each of the principal writers that occupy Cavell, including Shakespeare, Thoreau, Beckett, Wordsworth, Ibsen, and Poe, and incorporates chapters on tragedy, skepticism, ethics, and politics. Through detailed analysis of these works, Rudrum explores Cavell’s ideas on the nature of reading; the relationships between literary language, ordinary language, and performative language; the status of authors and characters; the link between tragedy and ethics; and the nature of political conversation in a democracy.

Rudrum casts a wide net that Cavell scholars as well as people interested in the philosophy of tragedy, aesthetics, and literary skepticism will find compelling.

David Rudrum is a senior lecturer in English at the University of Huddersfield. He is the editor of Literature and Philosophy: A Guide to Contemporary Debates.

"This is an original and exciting book, true to Cavell's trailblazing work in the Emersonian categories both of instruction and of provocation."

"Engaging with Stanley Cavell’s readings of Thoreau, Shakespeare, Beckett, Wordsworth, Poe, and Ibsen, David Rudrum shows that literary texts—for Cavell and for us—have a distinctive power to persist in their forms of questioning and thus to unsettle us persuasively. Yet in doing this they are also addressing and enacting the plights of subjects in worldly situations, not evaporating those situations into empty textual figures. Juxtaposing Cavell’s practices of reading against those of structuralism, poststructuralism, New Historicism, psychoanalytic criticism, and New Textualism, among others, Rudrum traces how Cavell’s critical writings, like other major writings, philosophical and literary alike, include 'an aesthetics of themselves,' so that in their densities of attention they demonstrate practices and possibilities of understanding the human as both constitutively incomplete and capable of productive attention. I cannot think of a better way of articulating the claim that literature makes on us."

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