Stanley Cavell on his life, philosophy, movies, and writing

Via Politica Theory Daily Review, an interview with Stanley Cavell.

[Institute of International Studies] Was it a matter of some controversy when you, a professor of philosophy at Harvard, started writing about films?

[Stanley Cavell] It’s caused me a certain amount of grief, that’s true. Harvard’s rather a proud place, as Berkeley is. At Berkeley, they figure if you’re there, you probably know what you’re doing. But there was quite a lot of curiosity about it, and I like that.

I think film may have been a motive that got me continuing to write. I’ve written much more about film than I had ever expected to. You point to three books of mine. I’m amazed by that. That’s probably a quarter of what I’ve written. I hadn’t expected that. But what’s kept me going was the sense that it was not a question of why I was interested in film, but a question of why, since everyone is interested in film (one supposes throughout the world), why don’t philosophers write about it? That was the question that, perhaps, more than anything, puzzled, bothered, even provoked me.

I don’t say there aren’t any others, but, really, terribly few. In all traditions, in both traditions of philosophy, either on the continent of Europe or by us, terribly few, who take it really seriously. There are, in the Frankfurt School of Philosophy, exceptions to this, but even Walter Benjamin, whom one always mentions, almost obligatory to mention in the study of film, never wrote a critical account of film. He regarded himself as having an aspiration to become the greatest critic of German literature, but he didn’t have any aspiration to become the greatest critic of film. He wrote some remarkable things about it, but not that. Why not that?

So I wanted it to become a normal part of what philosophers did in their work in aesthetics, for example. That hasn’t happened (there are exceptions — it’s happened more).

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