JoJosar Qcknowledging I am thus far unconvinced by these attempts to relieve me of my despair, where do I go from here? This separation leads to the image of the self as non-relational. Therefore, acknowledgment makes knowledge possible. Favourite Thinkers I: Stanley Cavell Cavell asserts in response to ordinary language critics who cavelo skeptical questions that there are good reasons why we ask skeptical questions. After describing his sense of separateness, Cavell offers a way out of this skeptical despair.

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Shakespeare compellingly reveals the emotions and motivations for skepticism that are often masked by intellectual rationalization in the conscious, explicit arguments of the philosophical skeptics.

Generally, the skepticism Cavell is concerned with entails putting to the test the unmediated presence of the world and others, as given in [End Page ] our experience, by seeking some kind of rational deduction of their existence. Such skepticism searches for a rationally grounded knowledge of the existence of the world, whereas for Cavell the existence of the world—including our own existence and especially that of others—is something that must simply be accepted.

In particular, the skepticism regarding other minds ignores the fact that simply acknowledging others in their existence and presence must precede anything that can be known rationally and reflectively about them.

Shakespearean tragedy dramatizes the consequences of such failure to acknowledge and accept what no knowledge can positively prove or guarantee in advance of our experience in the world and in conjunction with our involvement with others.

In general, Cavell exposes skepticism as based on the assumption that what cannot be rationally proved, or at least justified, cannot be given at all, and thus cannot be a basis for living. But this skeptical assumption is erroneous: skepticism, like all reasoning, begins from certain premises, and for Cavell the presence of the world and of others is among the givens from which any reasoned reflection must begin.

We delude ourselves if we think otherwise. The psychological stakes of these different attitudes toward the world and our relation to it can in some ways be probed best by literature. The question of how philosophy interacts with literature comes up repeatedly in Disowning Knowledge—and, indeed, presides over the entire book.

Cavell insists that his philosophical criticism of Shakespeare is not a matter of applying a paradigm or a battery of ideas already thought out in advance and then found to be illustrated in the plays. In his introduction he cautions: The misunderstanding of my attitude that most concerned me was to take my project as the application of some philosophically independent problematic of skepticism to a fragmentary parade of Shakespearean texts, impressing those texts into the service of illustrating philosophical conclusions known in advance.

Sympathy with my project depends, on the contrary, on unsettling the matter of priority as between philosophy and literature, say implied in the concepts of illustration and application. The plays I take up form respective interpretations of skepticism as they yield to interpretation by skepticism. DK, p. Often, therefore, these are already well-known cruxes.

To this extent, Cavell opposes symbolic or allegorical readings that stray from the literal sense, which in these cases is usually taken as already evident in the text. Instead, he scrupulously examines this literal sense and claims to adhere to it, as well as to the questions that arise from the words of the text themselves. He does make inferences to what the characters are thinking at specific moments DK, p. But he avoids letting character in any way separate itself from the structure of the words through which it is expressed in the text.

Part 2 of the Lear essay, in contrast, illustrates how philosophical speculation about character, narration, life, and love as acknowledgment can be sparked by close critical reading. It does not continue with the project of reading the play.

These speculative considerations cannot be attributed to Shakespeare, not even remotely. Terrified, he refuses the genuine love offered him by Cordelia, for this would require love and nothing else from him in return.

This is what he tragically avoids: needing to love and be loved. Cordelia refuses to abet Lear in betraying true love for false. She is willing to forego her inheritance, willing to be deprived of everything, but her love for her father is genuine, and she resists making it into something fake by parading it in a rhetorical show such as he demands. She is ordered to make a public display of her deeply and [End Page ] truly felt love for her dear, even if foolish, father.

A travesty is demanded of her: if she were to cede to it, genuine emotion would be turned to flattery and stratagem. Cavell interprets this attempted extortion of manifestations of love by a father from his child as a typical parental behavior. This behavior, moreover, is rooted in the universal human condition of having to construct a foundation for our lives through human relationships, since we lack any transcendent ground for anchoring and stabilizing our existence that can be accessed from within ourselves alone.

Lear, by the demands he makes in the opening scene, tries to turn love, the most intimate type of connectedness with his own flesh and blood, into something knowable and graspable in the express words of conventional discourse. This is what skeptics are trying to do with regard to the existence of the world and of other minds: to use plausible reasons, which are hammered out in discourse, to assure themselves of something that by its own nature is prior—and inaccessible—to discourse.

Yet Lear is tempted to concoct such assurances precisely because the love in question can have no guarantee or demonstrable proof. Cavell sees Lear as still seeking to cage and control love, and so as seeking to avoid real love, even in the last scene, which repeats the first and remains without redemption. He is still ashamed to love and therefore wishes not to be seen.

Love and its exposure are death to Lear, for whom the acknowledgment of love is tantamount to self-annihilation. Lear is impotent to sustain genuine love, so Cordelia must sacrifice her love to secrecy. Lear imagines a mystic marriage with his daughter, misconstruing the nature of the love between them in such a way that it still can find no proper acknowledgment. Cordelia, by her reference in the opening scene to a future husband to whom she would owe half her love, has already precluded the kind of exclusive love that Lear now fantasizes.

Othello, as Cavell reads him, is another protagonist on the run from what is, to him, unbearable love. Iago is able to dupe him because he is already disposed to doubt from within himself the love of Desdemona. Accepting it without reserve or barrier would violate his own sense [End Page ] of completeness and perfection within himself.

It would make him dependent on a being radically other than himself. Infected by skepticism, Othello doubts this woman. It is motivated by the fear of love and the refusal to simply acknowledge the other. This propensity to doubt is within Othello well before Iago begins to prey upon it so as to consummate its fatal consequences. With typically skeptical motives, Othello has from the beginning evaded love and the acknowledgment of Desdemona. Cavell finds something of this nature in virtually all of the Shakespeare plays he examines, making this one of the chief connecting threads of his readings.

There is a primal scene that has been repressed, and the whole play works to dredge it up and display it at the end. He refuses to enact his own existence.

In this, he is like the skeptic who refuses simply to exist and insists, instead, on knowing existence absolutely before he is willing to accept and become involved in it. Unable to master being by knowing it, he hesitates, and loses the capacity to act. In response to this predicament, Cavell presents theater as a kind of therapy.

It is a therapy specifically for our evasions of others and for the failures of acknowledgment typical of skepticism. Tragedy offers a kind of compelling training in empathetic responsiveness to the suffering of others. By making this suffering excruciatingly present, theater aims to provoke a cleansing or catharsis that will cure us of our habitual insensitivity.

Moreover, beyond its therapeutic uses, this sort of presence also has ethical implications. The question of how an ethical relation can be engaged in with a fictional character is one that has long haunted aesthetic theory.

Cavell has an original and persuasive answer. In making the characters present to our own mind and conscious presence for the time span of the performance and perhaps, also, of our rumination and reflection upon it , we acknowledge them.

We honor their otherness and attend to what makes them the unique beings that they are. We must renounce our self-absorption for a spell in order to [End Page ] dedicate our undivided attention to them.

This is an important skill for us to cultivate. Our common humanity depends upon its exercise. Conversely, by failing to attune ourselves to the present of others in our daily lives, we convert them from real people into characters without real claims upon us, and we make the world they inhabit into nothing more than a stage for us.

We deal with people as stereotypes reciting roles: we remain without genuine empathy for what their situation and behavior mean to them presently, and this is tragic. For what is the difference between tragedy in a theater and tragedy in actuality?

In both, people in pain are in our presence. Although we will never be able to reveal ourselves to Othello or Cordelia, in watching theater we realize that we must reveal ourselves to others and share with them the intelligible present constructed intersubjectively, through language, in order to be in communication with them and ethically accountable rather than sealed off on a stage of our own, in tragic isolation.

The only escape from tragic theatricality is a common life, a shared present of communication between self and other. The intellectualizing of our relationship with the world, which is typical of skepticism, is what tends to deprive us of this communicative contact. Skepticism assumes that our inability to know and to prove that the world exists is grounds for denying its presentness to us, as if this presentness were a function of knowing. Cavell maintains, on the contrary, that the world is to be accepted.

In general, skepticism stems from a desire to know the world as God knows it, and so to escape the insuperably human conditions of knowledge and responsibility. The absurdity of skepticism lies in its attempt to infer the existence of the world, whereas this fact is present to us not as a result of any chains of deductions but rather in the very opening of our consciousness to an awareness of ourselves and others within a world. The language, however, is different, and the derivation of these insights from Shakespearean tragedy offers a different approach, one with a historical and literary perspective that an interpreter could perhaps exploit even more than Cavell does through his philosophical analysis.

In addition, a critically reflective religious view of the most authoritative grounding for knowledge as shifting from prophecy to empirical methods of verification in an epochal paradigm shift during the time of Shakespeare can broaden and deepen our understanding of the nature of the skepticism that is dramatically represented in the plays.

Their inability to give up knowing, and their reliance on it as their primary orientation to the world, provokes their tragedies. For the truth is that only what we do not know can save us. The theatricalization of the world is also seen as an overcoming of skepticism, since it renounces the search for a ground in reality.

In this respect, theater seems to be akin to science, [End Page ] divesting itself of metaphysical ambitions in order to concentrate on the play of appearances that are observable in the empirical world. But theater is also like religion in nevertheless questioning the sense of the whole spectacle of the universe. However, neither religion nor theater rests content with skepticism and the barriers to knowledge that it erects or encounters.

They reach beyond the scope of knowledge to our relationship with the world and with others in unknowingness, yet also in acknowledgment. As linguistic beings, we must constantly prove our existence through self-revelation by articulating ourselves, in intelligible terms, to a community.

Being faced with them objectified before us on the stage or in the text , we understand and can try to correct them. Tragic theater provides a sort of psychoanalytical treatment of this desire, enabling us to overcome it and thereby to bring the self back into harmony with itself.

But this void around us is at the same time the wellspring of our need for love and understanding. It is only in this perception of them as separate from me that I make them present.

Confirming it as neither a blessing nor a curse, but a fact, the fact of having one life—not one life rather than two, but this one rather than any other. I cannot confirm it alone. To this extent, we participate in their lives freely by choosing to dedicate our attention and conscious presence to their drama and their pain. This is the first step in the all-important exercise of acknowledging others.

It takes place, paradigmatically, in the acknowledgment of fictional characters that we accept and project in inevitable unknowing of their supposed reality. My acknowledgment and thanks are due to all participants. William Shakespeare, The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, The Power of Presence Stanford: Stanford University Press, , is one indication of the backlash against this radical challenge that became orthodoxy in widespread circles of critical discourse in the heyday of deconstruction.

Martin Heidegger, interview in Der Spiegel, no.


Favourite Thinkers I: Stanley Cavell

By doing philosophy we practice asking questions and can apply this skill to our lives. By both of us xcknowledging the pain, both of us are able to know that she is in pain. The immediate perception of a patch of blue is, therefore, intuitively certain according to Russell. I realize that this is a contentious claim and I am only putting it forward as a possibility, for I cannot otherwise understand why he does not have this sense of despair. This is what Cavell means by acknowledgment.






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