Eric Thurm at Literary Hub:
Last week, the philosopher Stanley Cavell died. His contributions to human thought are vast and rich; his subjects range from the intricacies of human language to the nature of skill. But one of Cavell’s best-known books is also, at least at first glance, his most frivolous: Pursuits of Happiness. In this book, originally published in 1981, Cavell claims that what he calls “comedies of remarriage”—Hollywood comedies from the 1930s and 40s that share a set of genre conventions (borderline farcical cons, absent mothers, weaponized erotic dialogue), actors (Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck), and settings (Connecticut)—are the inheritors of the tradition of Shakespearean comedy and romance, and that they constitute a philosophically significant body of work.
What is there to learn from It Happened One Night, His Girl Friday, or The Lady Eve? In Cavell’s telling, almost everything. He describes the central theme of the genre as “the creation of the woman with and by means of a man.” If that sounds a bit retrograde—well, it is, a bit. But the “creation of the human,” as Cavell articulates it, is not as heavily gendered as it sounds; or at least, it doesn’t need to be.