Cavell and History

Whatever one makes of Cavell’s writings, one can hardly say they are historical.  We are told, for example, that America’s military entanglement weighs in on his thoughts in "Disowning Knowledge," but what exactly has King Lear to do with Vietnam?  Does the essay require, or deserve, proper historicizing?  Would such an exercise benefit Cavellian study, or detract from it?

Moreover, Cavell himself explicitly, if still somewhat coyly, historicizes his skeptical argument in his introduction to his collection of essays on Shakespeare.  Coy because Cavell is hardly interested in employing a “professional” historical methodology.  When he discusses the “advent of skepticism,” as, historically speaking, marking the appearance of Shakespeare, Descartes, and the New Science, he notes also that, fictionally speaking, the Roman world of Shakespeare, as depicted in Antony and Cleopatra, is “haunted by the event of Christianity.” 

Do competing threads of Romanization, Christianization, the advent of skepticism, the New Science, and Renaissance theatre require sorting out? 

Lastly, in discussing the appearance of what he coins the seven comedies of remarriage in Pursuits of Happiness, he expressly denies a cause-and-effect relationship leading to the appearance of this new genre:

"My thought is that the genre emerges full-blown, in a particular instance first (or a set of them if they are simultaneous), and then works out its internal consequences in further instances. So that, as I would like to put it, it has no history, only a birth and a logic (or a biology)."  (27-28)

Once again, we accept submissions from all theoretical perspectives and disciplines and encourage attempts to assimilate seemingly disparate disciplinary areas of Cavell’s thinking.

For the second issue of Conversations, the editors welcome papers that engage with Cavell’s different, perhaps undecided or indecisive, views on history and historicization. Possible paper topics include:

  • historicizing Cavell
  • the use of Cavell in broader philosophical discourse
  • philosophizing history
  • historicizing philosophy
  • the authority of history versus the authority of self
  • the influence of Marx on Cavell’s thought
  • the influence of Heidegger on Cavell’s thought
  • the influence of Hegel on Cavell’s thought

Papers should be no more than 6000 words, including footnotes, and must follow the notes and bibliography citation system described in The Chicago Manual of Style. We also welcome shorter, more intimate pieces addressing specific questions (800-1200 words).

Complete articles should be sent to no later than July 31st, 2014.