Cavellian Meditations: How to do Things with Film and Philosophy


Robert Sinnerbrink in Film Philosophy [via Bookforum's Omnivore]:

It is a curious feature of philosophical writing that authors rarely reflect on what motivates their concern with a chosen topic. The importance of a philosophical problem, argument, or discourse is assumed to be selfevident; or the kind of self-reflection that philosophers otherwise bring totheir reflections is deemed unseemly when applied to one’s own commitment to philosophy. Among the many reasons why Stanley Cavell remains anomalous in contemporary philosophy is his acknowledgment of the biographical aspect, or more exaltedly, the existential commitments of his own writing. He tells the story, for example, of how his coming to philosophy was inspired by his experience of particular texts, both philosophical and non-philosophical, an experience that was as much about writing and reading as about reflection and understanding. It was not only the philosophical power and originality of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations that inspired Cavell’s desire to do philosophy but the fact that it was the first text he read that ‘staked its teaching on showing that we do not know, or make ourselves forget, what reading is’ (Cavell 2006, 28).

Cinema too was a spur to philosophy, Cavell naming three films that suggested to him new possibilities of philosophical thought and expression: Smiles of a Summer Night [Sommarnattens leende] (Ingmar Bergman, 1955), Hiroshima Mon Amour (Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras, 1959), and L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960). Anticipating Cavell’s abiding concerns in his writing on film, these three films, he remarks, are cinematic works that opened up the question of what constitutes ‘a medium of thought’; they altered ‘the iconography of intellectual conversation’ (Cavell 2006, 29), suggesting the possibility that film might be an apt and equal partner to philosophy, or that some kind of marriage between the two might be possible. Cavell’s autobiographical reflection is fascinating, not only for its challenge to conventional academic philosophical discourse but for its suggestion that film and philosophy are fundamentally, rather than accidentally, related in his thought.

More here.