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Me, Myself and Us

Autobiography and Method in the Writing of Stanley Cavell

Wednesday 18 December 2013, by JohnDoe


With the publication of Stanley Cavell’s autobiography, it has become possible to think about the role of autobiography in Cavell’s work as a whole. Some readers regard this book as recording Cavell’s achievement of his challenge to philosophy, as contained in the closing question of The Claim of Reason: Can philosophy become literature and still know itself? [1] This question clearly resonates with the question of autobiography. And yet when we look at the work where Cavell begins to insist on the issue of autobiography and the first person pronoun, the first connections he draws are not from philosophy to literature but rather from the philosopher’s writing to philosophical method or, indeed we might say, to the authority of philosophy.

Cavell’s interest in the relation of autobiography to philosophy begins with his attending to the philosopher’s use of “We.” He returns to this theme emphatically in A Pitch of Philosophy. [2] This first person plural is not normally a part of any known form of autobiography, and its relation to literature seem to me to be as puzzling as its relation to philosophy. I will address the issue of the “I” and the “We”, and then turn to some indications of what a more comprehensive reading of Little Did I Know [3] might look like.

My overall claim is this: whatever impulses to autobiography may animate Cavell’s work, one of the most central impulses is methodological: it has to do with the “I” and the “We”. He does not explore the intricacies and the evasions of the “I” solely for its own sake: he is always also exploring the relation of the “I” and the “We”, of the philosopher’s ability to claim accord based on nothing more than the selfcritical understanding of his or her own representativeness.

See online : Me, Myself and Us


[1] Cavell, The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality and Tragedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 496.

[2] Cavell, A Pitch of Philosophy: Autobiographical Exercises (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), 3-4.

[3] Cavell, Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory (Stanford: Stanford University, Press, 2010).

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