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Nothing goes without saying

Stanley Cavell, 6 January 1994

The Marx Brothers: ‘A Day at the Races’, ‘Monkey Business’ and ‘Duck Soup’ 
introduced by Karl French.
Faber, 261 pp., £8.99, November 1993, 0 571 16647 4
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... Movies magnify, so when pictures began talking they magnified words. Somehow, as in the case of opera’s magnification of words, this made their words mostly ignorable, like the ground, as if the industrialised human species had been looking for a good excuse to get away from its words, or looking for an explanation of the fact that we do get away, even must ...

Finding Words

Stanley Cavell, 20 February 1997

Terrors and Experts 
by Adam Phillips.
Faber, 128 pp., £6.99, February 1997, 0 571 17584 8
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... EARLY in his lovely and useful book on D.W. Winnicott, published in 1988, Adam Phillips gives a sketch of certain aims and fates of that increasingly treasured figure of British psychoanalysis which maps certain of his own directions in his recent collection of psychoanalytic essays, Terrors and Experts. Winnicott would also enjoy playing off a language of common-sense against a language of professional expertise ...

Time after Time

Stanley Cavell, 12 January 1995

... Keep in mind that I come from that part of the world for which the question of old and new – call it the question of a human future – is, or was, logically speaking, a matter of life and death: if the new world is not new then America does not exist, it is merely one more outpost of old oppressions. Americans like Thoreau (and if Thoreau then Emerson and Walt Whitman, to say no more) seem to have lived so intensely or intently within the thought of a possible, and possibly closed, future that a passage like the following would be bound to have struck them as setting an old mood: ‘Everything is worn out: revolutions, profits, miracles ...

Why praise Astaire?

Michael Wood: Stanley Cavell, 20 October 2005

Philosophy the Day after Tomorrow 
by Stanley Cavell.
Harvard, 302 pp., £18.95, May 2005, 0 674 01704 8
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... say that the ordinary doesn’t exist, or that it exists only when we don’t look at it closely? Stanley Cavell has been thinking about the ordinary (although not only about that) for the whole of his philosophical career, and he knows the riddle inside out. But the riddle is not where his interest lies. He doesn’t mind if the world goes strange on ...

How philosophers live

James Miller, 8 September 1994

A Pitch of Philosophy: Autobiographical Exercises 
by Stanley Cavell.
Harvard, 196 pp., £20.75, July 1994, 0 674 66980 0
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... one is honest) are inherently uncertain, often contradictory, and usually tinged with emotion. As Stanley Cavell concedes at the outset of his own set of ‘autobiographical exercises’, the thinker who has chosen to examine himself risks turning ‘philosophically critical discourse into clinical discourse’. ...

Return to the Totem

Frank Kermode, 21 April 1988

William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion 
by Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, John Jowett and William Montgomery.
Oxford, 671 pp., £60, February 1988, 0 19 812914 9
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Disowning Knowledge in Six Plays of Shakespeare 
by Stanley Cavell.
Cambridge, 226 pp., £25, January 1988, 0 521 33032 7
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A History of English Literature 
by Alastair Fowler.
Blackwell, 395 pp., £17.50, November 1987, 0 631 12731 3
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... to it, except when, somewhere along the way, they changed their minds about Original Spelling. Stanley Cavell calls himself an amateur, which is modest, considering the celebrity of his Shakespeare essays, of which one, the long meditation on King Lear, has been on reading lists for twenty years. However, he is by vocation a philosopher, of ...

Green Films

Geoffrey Hawthorn, 1 April 1982

Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage 
by Stanley Cavell.
Harvard, 283 pp., £12.25, December 1981, 0 674 73905 1
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... that a play never can. It also, as the film it is, refers repeatedly to itself. So, at least, does Cavell see it. He is not one of those critics, therefore, ‘who cannot imagine that the products of the Hollywood studio system could in principle rival the exports of revolutionary Russia.’ On the contrary. Americans, he says, overpraise but undervalue their ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: Agnès Varda, 5 November 2009

... turns out, because he seems to have left the set. An old dream of cinema, from Virginia Woolf to Stanley Cavell. Life gesticulates or vegetates; the camera keeps ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: Yasujiro Ozu, 25 February 2010

Yasujiro Ozu Season 
BFI Southbank 2010, until 28 February 2010Show More
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... said that in moving pictures ‘we see life as it is when we have no part in it,’ and the one Stanley Cavell evokes when he speaks of films as presenting a world that is complete without us, a world we seek both to deny and to welcome. We don’t want a world that is complete without us: that is why we place ourselves in the movies, borrow their ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Peeping Tom’, 2 December 2010

The Peeping Tom 
directed by Michael Powell.
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... all too beautifully suited to this use, almost unimaginable for any other purpose. This is what Stanley Cavell calls the effect of the uncanny in film: the sense that some locations, not in reality dangerous, can be made to invite danger when they are filmed, so that terrible things seem ‘as natural to the place as the conventional events we might ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Le Mépris’, 21 January 2016

Le Mépris 
directed by Jean-Luc Godard.
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... is whether we understand or even notice the omission. With luck we do. ‘One can feel,’ Stanley Cavell says, ‘that there is always a camera left out of the picture: the one working now.’ Godard’s version of this idea concerns actors: ‘Of course, there is a scene missing. It’s the principal scene in every film, which is: “Why hire a ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Awful Truth’, 24 May 2018

... greatest screwball of them all’. And that it is the greatest of the comedies of remarriage that Stanley Cavell studies in his book Pursuits of Happiness. It’s a little harder to say why. The film is not as fast and zany as Bringing up Baby, and not as wise and worldly as His Girl Friday. Part of the answer to the question is, as Haskell says, the ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Gone Girl’, 23 October 2014

Gone Girl 
directed by David Fincher.
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... spoilers than usual. ‘One can feel​ that there is always a camera left out of the picture,’ Stanley Cavell wrote in The World Viewed, ‘the one working now.’ The proliferation of selfies has familiarised us with first-person photography but nothing so far has solved the problem of first-person narration in film. Whatever subjective-looking ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘North by Northwest’, 9 July 2009

North by Northwest 
directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
July 1959
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... rest is movie history, part of the iconography of loneliness and the risk of death in America. As Stanley Cavell says, ‘Of course the Great Plains is a region in which men are unprotected from the sky.’ It’s not just the sky, though, it’s also the empty earth. Cavell speaks of the uncanny in relation to this ...

Styling

John Lanchester, 21 October 1993

United States 
by Gore Vidal.
Deutsch, 1298 pp., £25, October 1993, 0 233 98832 7
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What Henry James Knew, and Other Essays on Writers 
by Cynthia Ozick.
Cape, 363 pp., £12.99, June 1993, 0 224 03329 8
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Sentimental Journeys 
by Joan Didion.
HarperCollins, 319 pp., £15, January 1993, 0 00 255146 2
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... The writers who have used the form in the questioning spirit – the essayists, from Montaigne to Stanley Cavell, who generate a sense that the act of writing is for them a genuine process of intellectual exploration – are far outnumbered by those for whom the essay is a forum for pyrotechnics and exhibitionism, for politics and for performance. The ...

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