The Point Podcast

Stanley Cavell's style (with Lola Seaton)

December 07, 2022 The Point Magazine Season 1 Episode 2
Stanley Cavell's style (with Lola Seaton)
The Point Podcast
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The Point Podcast
Stanley Cavell's style (with Lola Seaton)
Dec 07, 2022 Season 1 Episode 2
The Point Magazine

On this episode of The Point podcast, Jon Baskin talks to a fellow long-suffering Cavellian: the writer and New Left Review editor Lola Seaton. Lola joins us to discuss her essay for issue 28 of The Point, “The Sound Makes All the Difference,” on her relationship to Stanley Cavell’s unmistakable and infectious—if sometimes infuriating—writing style.


  • Literature as an act of communication. (5:46)
  • Cavell’s reading of King Lear and its deep insight about parental bribery (7:40)
  • How Cavell found his vocation in philosophy (13:11)
  • “Philosophy is a willingness to think undistractedly about the things people can’t help thinking about.” (18:00)
  • The “essential optimism” of Cavell’s approach to ordinary language philosophy (20:12)
  • The depth of convention (21:48)
  • Is there a tension between Cavell’s democratic aspirations and his ornate writing style? (25:08)
  • The anxiety of authenticity: “For philosophy to begin, you have to be perturbed by the question you’re taking up.” (34:17)
  • Where to start if you’re new to reading Cavell (42:56)
  • Cavell’s modernism (47:23)
  • Autofiction and autophilosophy (54:03)
  • Cavell and politics (1:03:17)

Relevant reading:

Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of The Point podcast, Jon Baskin talks to a fellow long-suffering Cavellian: the writer and New Left Review editor Lola Seaton. Lola joins us to discuss her essay for issue 28 of The Point, “The Sound Makes All the Difference,” on her relationship to Stanley Cavell’s unmistakable and infectious—if sometimes infuriating—writing style.


  • Literature as an act of communication. (5:46)
  • Cavell’s reading of King Lear and its deep insight about parental bribery (7:40)
  • How Cavell found his vocation in philosophy (13:11)
  • “Philosophy is a willingness to think undistractedly about the things people can’t help thinking about.” (18:00)
  • The “essential optimism” of Cavell’s approach to ordinary language philosophy (20:12)
  • The depth of convention (21:48)
  • Is there a tension between Cavell’s democratic aspirations and his ornate writing style? (25:08)
  • The anxiety of authenticity: “For philosophy to begin, you have to be perturbed by the question you’re taking up.” (34:17)
  • Where to start if you’re new to reading Cavell (42:56)
  • Cavell’s modernism (47:23)
  • Autofiction and autophilosophy (54:03)
  • Cavell and politics (1:03:17)

Relevant reading:

Lola Seaton  00:00

There's a kind of intellectual anxiety I suppose behind this need to, like constantly be authentic in some way like to be always writing from a place of like, genuine preoccupation and interest rather than to sometimes just like write because you have to write or whatever like, also this idea that you need to be constantly interested in stuff that you're writing about, that you need to really be perturbed by what you're writing. But whatever subject you're writing about, it sometimes seems to betray and anxiety to me that the world isn't actually interesting. It's, in a way like it's almost like he has to inject it with he has to animate the worldview, and maybe for himself.


Rachel Wiseman  00:39

That was Lola Seaton on the urgency and infectiousness of Stanley Cavell's style. You're listening to The Point Podcast. [music]


Jon Baskin  00:45

So I'm here with Lola Seaton for the second episode of The Point Podcast, and Lola is an editor and associate editor at the New Left Review and a contributing writer to the New Statesman. Her writing has appeared in the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books, and most recently, or most importantly, at least for this conversation, and the point where she wrote an issue 28 about the American philosopher Stanley Cavell. And specifically, Lola wrote about Cavell's highly idiosyncratic and, to some, highly infuriating style of writing as a philosopher. It's also relevant to this conversation, Lola, that you studied literature as opposed to philosophy in graduate school, which is part of sort of what makes it strange as you indicate in the piece that you ended up writing your dissertation on Cavell. So I sort of wanted to start by asking you how you first came across Cavell and if you remember the first time you encountered his writing and kind of what you thought of it.


Lola Seaton  01:42

Yeah, so I feel like I've now written about Cavell and my experience of Cavell enough to sort of have stylized my memory of past encounters. I'm not sure if I can remember the actual first encounter but yeah, I did come across him as an English—literature student—English student is how it is in the UK. But there was a Shakespeare, kind of a whole semester is devoted to Shakespeare in the course that I did. And I guess we were assigned his essay on King Lear called "The Avoidance of Love." So yeah, I wish I could remember the moment when I actually first read that essay, but that must have been my kind of gateway to him. And then I probably read like his other essays on Shakespeare, he wrote essays on you know, Othello or Hamlet and so on, in which were collected in a collection called discerning knowledge eventually. So that was, I guess, like, how I came to him. So not at all from philosophy, right. But then I did sort of just continue with him. So I then did read his like, much more his kind of—oh, well, he didn't write conventional philosophy, but like his more kind of purely philosophical works, I suppose. Like his The Claim of Reason, which is his big—it was kind of a rewriting of his his PhD thesis, but like heavily reworked—masterpiece that was ended up being published like 18 years later or something. I kind of had no experience of philosophy really. But rather than me coming at him through philosophy, I kind of any he was my entryway to philosophy of so I would read some of the philosophies he wrote about. So like Ludwig Wittgenstein, and J. L. Austin and people like that, who he wrote about and loved.


Jon Baskin  03:24

And do you remember just like when you first read him, and that in this in the avoidance of love essay, like did you have some kind of reaction to how he wrote or what what his writing style was?


Lola Seaton  03:36

Yeah, I must, I must have I must have done. Yeah, that's like a really long essay. And a very unconventional, like, it was not like he was writing ordinary, ordinary literary criticism, really. I guess like, I don't know that I immediately loved his style. I think we're gonna like talk more more about his his, the detail of what his style is like. But it can be quite difficult. And so I doubt that it was like I was kind of immediately seduced by literally like, his phrasing or whatever. But I think that there was something like, I guess, appealing about the profundity of the way he writes about, about everything really, but about Shakespeare, like he, he writes about it kind of in relation to skepticism, which, yeah, there's like this problematic about like, whether we can know like, that object is over there or whether we can know other minds and whether like, and then he introduces this idea of like acknowledgement, and I guess this is like intersection of like the psychoanalytic with the, with the philosopher with the literary that somehow appealed to me and it seemed, I suppose, like, in an academic context reading like literature, you're often right Nobel lecture in quite technical formalist ways. And I think he, I guess presented a way of reading literature that seems like to be reading literature in a way that reminded you that it was like written by other humans like for other humans. The character on the page like had, like you could like, I guess, not exactly relate to them as people but that you cared about them. And I guess it had that infused kind of Yeah, like human affective thing, which I guess sometimes as a student you might have felt was denied to you or that you were required to ignore when you put on your kind of like, professional head.


Jon Baskin  05:38

Yeah, I remember it feeling as someone who came from literary studies also like to Cavell that there was this kind of, you know, we had this debate and literary studies about the intention of the author and how much it mattered. And there are critics that said, you know, you shouldn't care about the intention at all. And there were those who said, it was, it was the main thing that mattered, but I felt like Cavell sort of, he allows you to make a kind of end run around this question by paying attention to one thing that's, like, undeniable, which is that a literary work intends to communicate with an audience, you know, and like that intention is something one that like, should be attentive to, in reading it and thinking about like, thinking about this as an act of communication, whatever else it is.


Lola Seaton  06:20

And I think actually, that when you do read his more conventional philosophy, or like his nonliterary writing anyway, like that idea of, yeah, all kinds of statements being acts of communication, I think is, is also what's appealing about him in general, not just about his Shakespeare criticism, because I think like the way he writes about philosophers and the things they say, and arguments they make, which might kind of seem uninteresting, or wrong or irrelevant, or like crazy or incoherent, or whatever. I think what's very powerful about his his, his mode of attention to that is that he, it seems to all predicated on idea that people phosphors or King Lear or whoever I like, driven to their utterances by kind of reasonable, like, they think they've been reasonable in their context. And like, our job is to, to kind of try and understand like, why what they're saying feels necessary to say to them or why that makes sense to them, which I think is like a very powerful and kind of widely transferable way of like thinking about speech and comprehending other people, basically, but yeah, I think he does exactly that in the King Lear essay, too.


Jon Baskin  07:29

Yeah, it's quite it's quite I'm glad you said that about comprehending other people because I think one of the really cool things about Cavell I mean, it's, it's strange, in a way, this is so rare in reading philosophy, but it's actually like, you read them and you really do feel like you have new insights about like your friends and family. And I mean, just to like, stay on the the Lear essay for a minute, which I also was like, it wasn't the first thing I read by him, but it was definitely probably the most impactful early thing I read, called King Lear in the the acknowledgement of love is a source of love, I think, the avoidance of love. Sorry, yes, I got confused two of his favorite words. But, you know, he, he makes this point about the opening scene, where Lear is dividing up his kingdom, and he's trying to give 1/3 to each of his three daughters. And he gets so angry when Cordelia kind of says, I'm not going to play this game and, and flatter you for this land. And she says, I'm not going to do it, because I actually love you, I'm not going to put out like a charade. And it's just one of those things where like, there's been 400 You know, four or 500 years of criticism of this play. And you get the feeling when you read Cavell, he reads the scene in this very commonplace way that you've never thought of before about the tries to explain why it is that King Lear gets so angry at Cordelia, and doesn't recognize what she's doing as a kind of act of love, or reacts the way he does to it. And he says, basically, I just always remember boiling it down to like, look, this is like a very common situation, we all know, it's a parent who's who's declining in power, trying to bribe their children to love them, you know, and to have them except the bribe. And one of them, calls him on it and says, I'm not going to play this bribe. And that's where the psychoanalytic stuff comes in. And sort of you see why he reacts with this kind of rage to the one who says, like, I'm not going to play this game. And it really was like the idea, the idea that he's avoiding love because love, unlike bribery, comes with certain responsibilities that one has to fulfill as a human being and not just as it can, you know, as someone who has power. And so I started seeing this and people around me like, oh, yeah, avoidance of love, like this is a real thing. And I see how it explains certain behavior of people in my life. Yeah, it was. I don't know. That's an amazing experience.


Lola Seaton  09:53

Yeah, no, actually, I think I had much the same reaction to that. Like, I think it's like actually quite difficult to, to extract those insights without sounding really banal or like general like, you know, I was trying to think about, like, what is it that Cavell teaches us about humanity or whatever about and it will be like, like his readings lead to sometimes a kind of distillation of his like an aphoristic insight about the human condition kind of thing. And like, it will be stuff like, like how to acknowledge our separation from others or like, it's like these very like, yeah, just like completely fundamental aspects of what it's like to have a family and like, be a person but out of context, they can not have the power they do in the essay, but, but yeah, I totally had that experience. Like just, I mean, I guess that it totally, totally made me realize. Yeah, I mean, the King Lear kind of like paradigm in like, yeah, as you say, like in my own like, even family and stuff. And—


Jon Baskin  10:52

Every time my mother now gets like a really nice house for us to all come to on the holiday so that we'll all come be with like, together on the holidays, I think of like the King Lear you know, in like California, I think of the King Lear like example.


Lola Seaton  11:06

Yeah. Yeah, no, exactly. And like, it's kind of like, Why does a criticism—why does 500 years of criticism not do that? I guess, I don't know that I've read all of it, obviously, about King Lear. But that was definitely like so refreshing. When you're when you're a student, I guess to feel like your intellectual life is like—has... it's just basically about the most important things in your real life. Like that, you know, that there's like—he's very good at somehow… Not just like, not this, you're not just like doing this like fusty, like clever exercise, when you're reading a Shakespeare play, you're like, thinking about the most important things that that like perturb you on a daily basis, basically.


Jon Baskin  11:53

Yeah, and I think that that, I mean, that speaks a little bit, I was going to ask you to say a little about, like, why doing this seems so radical, like, within philosophy or so, you know, maybe you can, you can tell a little bit of history about like, sort of when Cavell came on the scene and philosophy like you do in the article and what he was reacting against that, you know, so there's a historical way to tell that story. But I think like the question, you know, you said, like, why hasn't it for 400 years, he has this kind of psychoanalytic reading of this, which is like, it's exactly because these things actually perturb us that we avoid looking at them, you know, that'd be like, somehow flee into theory, or logic or these like these, like, you know, the quest for certainty is the name of one of his books. And he sees this like, all over not only in the opening scene of King Lear, but all over like Anglo-American philosophy. And so he has that I think the Freud thing you mentioned, Freud is such an important thinker to him, and I feel like that sort of reading of like, there's a reason, a lot of us intellectuals or academics or just people, like want to avoid talking about these things that are hard and challenging, can be painful to think, you know, honestly, about.


Lola Seaton  13:02

Yeah, I think, um, well, so, Freud is a kind of also like a biographical hinge between his like, because he as I as I described sort of, briefly in the piece, he Cavell had like, he was sort of born to a musician mother, and had been a very talented musician growing up and had basically wanted to be a musician. And then he like, went to Juilliard in New York, and then he and then he basically found himself—he was studying composition at Juilliard and found himself like bunking off, going to Juilliard and like going to the movies and going to the theater and like just reading Freud all day for like 12 hours a day. And then he that's what kind of led him to quit, quit music forever, and then kind of restart his voc sense of his vocation and go and study philosophy. Although even then he then so he went to study philosophy. But I think he, he didn't start studying it really with a sense that he found a replacement for music. I think he, as we were talking about found, like, the kind of dominant analytic tradition, just like excessively technical specialized, like divorced from the kind of profound concerns I guess you would have found in Freud and, like, found in art and film and stuff.


Jon Baskin  14:22

This was a time when, like, logical positivism kind of was dominating.


Lola Seaton  14:25

Yeah, yeah, exactly. So I guess it wasn't until, like, so he started a dissertation, which he wasn't that interested in doing. And then he had this kind of transformative experience when J. L. Austin who's like a, an Oxford academic, who was like, kind of one of the pioneers, I guess, of like, ordinary language philosophy, which was almost like the new big thing at Oxford at the time. This is be like in, I guess, in the Fifties. And, and yeah, so Austin came into to America and like gave some some lectures which Cavell saw and he just was, like, totally, like, converted to this new, this new cool thing. And then he like ended up like ditching his dissertation like restarting app. And and then he was like this is now I feel like it has something to say to philosophy. This is like, this is me and I guess I guess what I think I think I tried to kind of explore this in the piece. I'm not sure how successfully but I think what he liked about ordinary language philosophy was many things one was like, so ordinary language philosophy, I guess, was like, the idea that rather than like philosophy being about kind of speculating about these grand metaphysical abstractions, like what is freewill or like, that kind of at that level, it was like, it was actually just this more kind of quotidian practice of just like, we can figure out what words mean and what like our concepts are by just like thinking about how we use language every single day like, and so Austin was kind of famous for these, like, he had this like, kind of fastidious wry style, and he would kind of like draw out what different kinds of concepts were like the concept of an excuse or the concept of a mistake, by just like finally, looking at distinctions between what it means to say like, I shot my donkey by accident, or I shot my donkey by mistake or whatever.


Jon Baskin  16:27

And it was important to him to look at like how we use these words as opposed to just like this sort of theory of definitions, right? That was part of, yeah—


Lola Seaton  16:34

Yeah, exactly. Like, like how any, any kind of native speaker use these words, not exactly not just like this, like, not the kind of expert like jargon of the word it was like how, yeah, just like how we use them everyday casually. I guess with the idea that like, our meanings, all we need for meaning is kind of compacted in those ordinary exchanges. And to which anyone with it, like Twitch anyone has access, who speaks the language, although the veil would then feel like Austin and I guess he too had this like particular Knack or not, if we couldn't enact like a talent kind of on air for I guess, fighting for kind of elaborating these examples, these examples of like, how language was used. And yeah, so I guess what what Cavell like, part of what Cavell liked about that was a I think its attention to to language in a way like I think that has some just it's it's like this that's it I think that's also why it's Cavell and also all new language was fears is like appealing to an English student, because a literature student story, because it's yeah, it's all about, like, close attention to words. And but I think also he liked the, I guess, like, democratic kind of ethos of ordinary language philosophy, which is like, yeah, no one is an expert on like, no one can be no one can really be an expert philosopher, because philosophy is a discipline that's just about like, as Cavell would put it, like, ordinary things. It's about what humans can't help thinking about as the kind of thing who will say stuff like, it's what humans cannot is about things that humans simply cannot fail to know, like, death or God or whatever. And yeah, so I think he liked the idea that older language philosophy kind of requires you to ask yourself what you would say in a given context in order to figure out what something means like, in effect, self reflection becomes a technique that's like valid. And so I think that, in a sense, like, if you amplify that idea into different into all kinds of criticism and thought that's like, it's basically asking you to attend to your own experience and saying that is relevant to this, like discipline. And you can do that in these rigorous ways, basically, which, yeah,


Jon Baskin  18:56

Yeah, I love this line from your piece where you say philosophy is compel understood. It was a willingness to think not about something other than what ordinary human beings think about but rather to learn to think undistractedly about things that ordinary human beings cannot help thinking about. I think that's a great way of putting it.


Lola Seaton  19:13

Yeah, I think that might be Cavell.


Jon Baskin  19:16

Well, it's a mix of you and Cavell. That's a great he puts it well.


Lola Seaton  19:22

I guess undistractedly is kind of interesting term that because it's like, it's I think it both it kind of relates to what you were saying about the avoidance thing where it's like, these things are like, yeah, quotidian preoccupation. But we actually might want it well, a) we might, I think the undistracted is meant to indicate that philosophy is a place where you think about those things in a certain kind of rigorous way. It's not just like, you know, just like laying on your back and like, contemplating whatever it is, it is like has its methods and techniques and stuff, but also undistracted because yeah, we might, we might have reasons we don't want to think about those things.


Jon Baskin  20:03

Yeah, I think the other thing I was thinking about, as you were saying that I think appealed to Cavell—well, I don't know if it I think it appealed to Cavell in terms of, in line with sort of the democratic nature of ordinary language philosophy, I always thought there's also in comparison with a lot of the sort of, more like postmodern critiques of language and the linguistic turn and stuff, there was always an essential optimism, I felt like to the develop approach, which is like, instead of emphasizing all the things that language can't do, you know, all the ways that like, we misunderstand each other, there's this sense, like, look at how much we actually are able to communicate, just with like, our everyday language, like we actually are able to, like communicate with most other people most of the time, like, all kinds of things like even just by pointing at something or like grunting in a certain context, someone else will know what we mean. And that, for me was like a big paradigm shift. And like, I think, as an intellectual academic, certainly, you're sort of taught to think about constantly how confused everyone is with their language, how they don't use words, the right way, how like, we're all like talking past each other, and no one ever understands anything. And there's almost like a pleasure taken in that like, and then you had these logical positivists or the, you know, who were like, Oh, we're gonna, like, tell you exactly, we're going to figure out a better way of using language. And he wanted it he wanted to say like, and he felt he was trying Wittgenstein with this, like, no look at actually, all the ways like our ordinary words and ways of speaking, do communicate so much.


Lola Seaton  21:34

Yeah, totally. I think that the concept of the ordinary is like is yeah, obviously, like, very important to cover and very compelling. I think, as a way, especially for some, like, I don't quite know why, but I think I remember being as like undergraduate, definitely, that had great appeal, the kind of the idea that, yeah, the ordinary is like not something to flee from or to transcend. But I think you're, you're onto something as well about this, this way that Google wants us to recognize that, in a sense, like, or to note to be you to be in a way like awestruck by the degree to which we can communicate and that we make sense to each other. And that when I cry out in pain, you know, I'm in pain and stuff. And I remember


Jon Baskin  22:20

when he says, like, when I say my foot hurts, you know, to comfort me, not my foot like that, actually.


Lola Seaton  22:28

Yeah, that's like, that's one of those like, surreal, funny thing. Like he, I think there's a kind of surreal, surrealness like about sometimes the way I think about answers, I think, from Wittgenstein too. Like, this way that he, he tries to, like, show us the depth of I think he's unknown because of the depth of convention, in a sense, like, how far conventions like and language kind of in one of them reach and, and this is all, I think, in a sense, part of the therapeutic mission of I think of, as you can call it, philosophy, right, sort of just call it criticism in some way, but the, which is like to kind of, I guess, yet to, to reassure us, or not reassure us, but in a sense, it's like, I think you have to kind of do again and again, continually really, it's almost like a daily practice, which is to like that, basically, like, our language is enough. And like, we don't, we're always trying to find this is kind of where his idea of skepticism has this like tremendous, like psychoanalytic depth where he's kind of saying, he like is trying to, like assuage the perturbed person who feels that he worries that like, you know, you can never see my pain you literally can't see inside me, you can't feel my pain, how can you know it exists like, and this he basically reads, the desire for like, certainty about other people's experience and about as an effect, like, not like, it's a very human desire, but like that we can in a sort of disarm it by Yeah, by by acknowledging the importance of what he would call acknowledgment, he says something like this lack of knowledge can never be taken up by so this lack of acknowledgement can never be taken up by knowledge. So like, we want this like impossible certainty of each other, which sort of in a way is, is a desire to overcome our separateness from each other. And he's kind of saying, Yeah, we can't do that.


Jon Baskin  24:20

Like, how much we can do.


Lola Seaton  24:23

Yeah, right. Exactly like that. Actually, there's all these nuances of Yeah, his attention to like the nuances of interpersonal communication is definitely like, yeah, like a thing that he often is almost like he's sometimes in his writing, like elaborating a typology of tiny little like gradations of communication, not just like things we say. But yeah, like, ways that praise can actually be denying of someone or like, this very, like sensitive things to sort of show us Yeah, exactly how much how much we can communicate despite our separateness basically.


Jon Baskin  24:56

So, so I think I mean—so I want to shift a little to get to the to the topic of your piece: the style of his writing because it's very, it's noteworthy or interesting given all the aspirations we've been talking about the democratic newness, the emphasis on ordinary language, the sort of, the feel, I think we both have that he's like writing about ordinary experience in a way that very few philosophers, you know, have been able to. That nevertheless, you open up his book, and you know, I asked you the first time you read him, because partly because I have such a vivid memory of reading, opening up the claim of reason. I was at my friend, Jonny Thakkar's, apartment, actually, it was a colleague at the point now I studied philosophy at Oxford, and then it was the University of Chicago and I pulled this book off the shelf because I had heard Cavell 's name in my program, he was he was very highly thought of, and you know, I just read this first sentence, do you have the Do you have claim of reason?


Lola Seaton  26:02

I don't have it right with me


Jon Baskin  26:03

I've got it pulled up, so I can read you just the beginning. I'll just I don't even know if I can get through the whole paragraph. Because the first sentence is is a is a paragraph, but it gives a good sense of just the style, although, you know, you can maybe comment on how good a sense it gives us the style after I read it. So this is how the claim of reason starts, if not at the beginning of Wittgentein's later philosophy, since what starts philosophy is no more to be known at the outset, then how to make an end of it semicolon, and if not, at the opening of philosophical investigations, since its opening is not to be confused with the starting of the philosophy it expresses. And since the terms in which that opening might be understood, can hardly be given along with the opening itself, semicolon. And if we acknowledged from the commencement Anyway, leave open at the opening, that the way this work is written is internal to what it teaches, which means that we cannot understand the manner parentheses call it the method before we understand its work. And if we do not look to our history, since placing this book historically can hardly happen earlier than placing it philosophically nor look to Wittgentein's past since then, we are likely to suppose that the investigations is written in criticism of the track TARDIS, which is not so much wrong as empty. It goes on and on for a couple more sentences than where and how are we to approach this text? How shall we let this book teach us this or anything? So that's, that's the opening of the reason. And yeah, I want to ask you about that paragraph and how you see it relating to like his style, but I'll just say when I first read it, I mean, my first reaction was extreme irritation, sort of, like, sort of like the guy that you mentioned, you know, at the beginning of your essay. And in some ways, I felt that an impression I would completely disavow. But I felt that this was like a really bad instance of academic writing too many caveats. You know, too many parenthetical phrases, you can't like, figure out what he wants to say. So he tries to say at all, I thought it was I thought it was really like, Oh, my God, this is like almost a travesty of bad academic writing.


Lola Seaton  28:19

Yeah, I wish I could remember what I thought about I first read that sentence. But but the it's very, like, widely quoted sentence. It's a very famous sentence. And I guess it was sorry, not very famous, very famous with him. But, yeah, I mean, it's also like, I feel like in that sentence, the reason? So it's obviously, it's really long, it's like a paragraph long. And it sort of, it's like, kind of impossible to follow. Is that Yes, as you were reading there was like this, obviously, all the semicolons and all these kind of if clauses, we should don't quite land. And then, like, constantly, like qualifications and like modifications and conditions and like, so like, yeah, it's, and it's obviously also. And it's also kind of self conscious, in a way like it's obviously about sentences about beginnings, and it is the beginning sentence of this book. And it's like, it's saying to you the way this work, I think he's referring to the investigations, although it's a little bit of them. So Wittgenstein's philosophy, philosophical investigations, but it's somewhat ambiguous or equivocal it whether some of that work or the work you're reading, and he's this Yeah, the way this book is written is internal to what it teaches. So it's, he's saying, like, style is important. Yeah, exactly. And there's, like, really eccentric ly styled for a sentence. So it's, it's, I guess, the reason I think of it as like, not necessarily representative. And there's also those kind of, sort of like actual sort of wordplay like leave open at the opening that kind of stuff. I guess like I—It's definitely like, representative in a sense, like it's a mood is definitely like a certain kind of Cavell that sentence but I find it like a bit more. It's slightly more. So he's being deliberately playful and performative basically in that sentence in a way that I wouldn't necessarily say is characteristic of the rest of the or lots of others other writing, which is like he's kind of dramatizing something in that sentence. Whereas I feel like his, the rest of his writing is some I mean, in a sense, and I think he's somewhere warns against reading his work like this and interviews or something like he distinguishes his writing from being any in any way mimetic of thoughts, like, it's not like you're just, but there is nevertheless, I think, like a sense in which his writing resembles both his speaking and also resembles like, just kind of resemble, like, following the ramifications of a train of thought, which is why it's often I think, regarded as self indulgent, this is kind of perhaps the most, the most like, popular accusation. Because it's like this, in a sense, he's displaying a responsiveness to his own mind or whatever.


Jon Baskin  31:15

I was just gonna say this question came up, actually, in some of the responses to your essay, do you know what his like method for writing was? If a lot of the time it was, you mentioned something about he didn't like to revise? Or I don't know, or like something about how much of it was lectures, you know, did he speak in a similar way?


Lola Seaton  31:34

Yeah, I mean, I've been taught I didn't ever see him speak. But some of the like, some of the pieces in sorry, in the new book, which is the like, a sensible occasion for the essay that I wrote is, which is here in there. And it's like the first sort of posthumous collection of bits and pieces, basically, the most of which I think, have been published. But since the 80s, and a lot of those were like lectures like or keynote addresses or whatever. So I've heard that they that compelling conversation was quite like Cavell in writing, but I can't speak for it myself. But I think what also sorry, the other reason why I think the claim of reasons opening sentences is a kind of, I think he's announcing himself to the world of philosophy in some way. Because it's like his big magnum opus, like, it's a really big, like, 400 page plus book and it's like, dense and I think it's still kind of Yeah, it's kind of his masterpiece, you would probably say, and he's in a sense, like, I think he or his dramatizing the way in which for him philosophy, the question of how philosophy begins, is is always is always in question as it were, like he and I think this is yeah, to just to go back to the thing of self indulgence. I think there's this thing about Cavell which is like, the reason that I myself feel ambivalent, I think about him part of the reason, in the one sense, like he's been, I think, quite influential on the way I think, and I will see you feel great affection for a lot of his writing, and, but also can feel, as a lot of people do, I think, quite irritated by the way he writes. And I think as I've like, left academia, and now like, read, like, ordinary journalism, more than academic books and stuff I'm even more intolerant of basically writing that isn't simple and clear. And because yeah, he has very long sentences, and he doesn't he doesn't seem to like I said, I don't know if he what his actual writing process was, but like, the sentences that he doesn't revise, because he effectively like, keeps revising process in the sentences if that makes sense. Like usually, if, if you can't think of the right word, like three more you then like, choose one eventually in the edit, right? You don't just like leave—


Jon Baskin  33:54

Right, you don't, you don't narrate. Like if one of my students was narrating their search for how to begin a paragraph, I'd be like, you can just put what you ended up with here.


Lola Seaton  34:03

Yeah, I think that's um, is throat clearing, which—


Jon Baskin  34:06



Lola Seaton  34:06

Which people people usually say to cut so. Yeah, I'm definitely like, less less sort of taken with that now, but I do nonetheless, think that what some people will regard as the self indulgence, I think does come from this like, almost impossible, ideal or standard for himself of rigor, which is like you need to be like for philosophy to begin you have to like effectively be perturbed by the question you're going to be taking up like, you can't just do anything like on autopilot because you need to file your whatever paper or you need to like, and I think the way you have to sort of like work your way into that question seeming really important to you and for you, but you need to speak in a way that that interests you, basically is one of his like, key in a sense of morals. And but I think it means that it does sort of ring his pro Who's out of shape in some ways? And I think if you think about his, he wrote, I think this is the the last book book he wrote, was called Little did I know. And it's it's not about a philosophical autobiography, basically. Although it was written, I think, eight years before he died, it came out in 2010. But the that book is like, it's like quite a difficult book, even though it's just like a memoir, because it's, it's structured, not like a linear chronological narrative, like I was born in Atlanta and whatever. And then I went to Harvard. And it's like, it's basically like written with these, like a diary, effectively, where he's like dating. Each entry is dated in the current, I think it's like 2003, or whatever, 2004. And so he's like, he's basically like, only writes when he feels a burst of inspiration to like, write, and it does have some, like chronology like he does, you know, it's not like he's just like, literally free associating. But he's prioritizing responsiveness to his own interests effectively and inspiration, rather than to like, the more sociable demand to write a chronological narrative.


Jon Baskin  36:07

Yeah, I like that idea. A lot that you mentioned about like that part of how you generate how you start a work of philosophy for him is to sort of show how you're perturbed by something, and show why it won't leave you alone. You know, it speaks to sort of what you said earlier about, like giving the undistracted attention to the thing you can't stop thinking about. And it actually reminds me if the only thing I remember from Little did I know, which I remember two things from it. I remember just thinking the title was brilliant. Fernando biography, he has a real knack, I think, for titles and a kind of, I mean, he has a poetic ear. I, I think that's undeniable. And that's why like, when I say like, I disavow my initial response, like, there's a way in which that sentence like you said, it's like oh my god throat clearing of the worst time that you could imagine in academics, but you read it that way first, and then later somehow once you've actually been converted to use like a Cavall at work to like, talk his way and to see that what he's doing is quite intentional. And and he does have this poetic ear, you see this something very different, I think, and you start thinking, Okay, why did he do this? But the other the other line I remember from that is he's paraphrasing something from Wittgenstein. And it has to do with this therapeutic idea of philosophy. And he says something like, the goal, it's as if the goal for Wittgenstein was not certainty, but peace, like to reach a state of peace where the thing that perturbed you doesn't perturb you anymore, at least for that moment, you know, and I always thought I thought that was like a very powerful way of describing something that it's like you read him and it's like, you can tell this mind is like, so he has to show you the unrest in his mind to get you to the to appreciate when you've reached the state of peace, you know.


Lola Seaton  37:53

Exactly, I think and I think that as I've read Cavell I think I have maybe this I don't think I didn't make it into my piece. But one thing that I think I've come to feel about him maybe more recently, is that that the need to show basically that an A question taking take being at his his interest in a question something being live for him basically, sometimes has a slightly anxious like quality to it. And also, he more or less says this himself, you'll find that basically, most things you can say about Cavell, he's already said it by himself, because he was, like, really cute. And also like, very, like self aware, and wrote a lot about his own his reception, and so on. So like, Yeah, you really can't really find anything original to say about him. But But I guess I did sometimes. sense this, do sometimes already sense this thing of, because he's kind of given up certain kinds of rigor, ideas of rigor, and philosophy, like he doesn't do. Yeah, super rational, like cases and arguments. And he writes in this much more meandering essayistic, literary way. And he's like, I mean, those aren't even sufficient descriptions of what his writing is like, but, but yeah, it's definitely not like an ordinary academic philosophical paper, then he then means that there's a credit there's a lot of burden on the style, which he acknowledges, like he's like, Well, then, and I think he at one point says in an in an essay, something like the burden of writing about art is the same as the burden of producing art or something like that. Like he acknowledges that his style has a lot to kind of do if he's not going to do that ordinary things. And so I think as it was, in a way in reaction to that he's there's a kind of intellectual anxiety I suppose behind this need to like constantly be authentic in some way like to be always writing from a place of like, genuine preoccupation and interest rather than to sometimes just like write because you have to write or whatever like so and I think that also this idea that you need to be constantly interested in stuff that you're writing about, or constantly, that you need to really be perturbed by what you're writing. But whatever subject you're writing about that, like, it sometimes seems to betray an anxiety to me that the world isn't actually interesting, in a way, like it's almost like he has to inject it with Yes, to animate the world for you, and maybe for himself like, and that's somehow made me think that actually sometimes there's a bit of a specter of like the world seeming uninteresting, or without consequence, or meaningless in some way. And like,


Jon Baskin  40:36

Yeah, I think that's really interesting, or that maybe he had like, experienced the specter of this like separateness in a really strong way that he's that he's like writing to get through. And so I mean, it does raise the question like, of like, what is the therapy he's doing for himself? In this writing?


Lola Seaton  40:55

Yeah, that's, that's a good question. He did. He also did do therapy like he was he was in analysis, I think, for maybe a couple of times, I think, and for quite a few years, and also thought about becoming an analyst himself. But, yeah, I think that's why he likes film and art in general, I suppose. He says in some interview somewhere that he when he was writing his dissertation, he one night kind of just bunked off writing it because he was just stuck. And he went to see a film went to see in Marburg when film and was like, ended up going home after the film and like just writing all night about this Bergman film. And then I think like the elation of watching the film for him was like, I think he says it was the absolute knowledge that everything in the film mattered, that the film this like aesthetic object basically is kind of like a realm of total significance. And I feel like the way your Cavell reads the world in general, like reads, people's tiny microaggressions, or micro-denials, and like, is kind of reading the world as kind of full of total significance like a lack of acknowledgement for Cavell is a denial like the, you know, there's not really like there was like, no space for like, absence of meaning in behavior and stuff. And I feel like it's kind of that same will to read total significance into the world sense everything matters. But to me that does sort of sometimes Yeah, portray of fear that everything doesn't sometimes


Jon Baskin  42:35

In the world, unlike in a work of art, like some it could—it's not clear how it matters or that it matters always or that there's a meaning. That's really interesting. I never thought about that. That's a really interesting point. I should say, you mentioned earlier on, you know, that Cavell wrote about film and literature. In addition to more traditional well, he never wrote a traditional philosophy, but he wrote about philosophers too, but I guess I was curious for me the film stuff if someone was like new to Cavell, I think some of the film writing and Pursuits of Happiness or The World Viewed can be like one of the more accessible places to start, I think because it's quite concrete. Like he'll he'll describe the films and he'll kind of explain how he's reading different characters. And do you have like, is there like, advice you would give to someone who's sort of just getting it wants to know where to start with him? A certain book or essay that you would recommend?


Lola Seaton  43:30

Yeah, I've heard Pursuits of Happiness, which is about Hollywood comedies in the sort of Forties. People regard that as like his most accessible book I've heard. I don't think I found that myself necessarily, but I wasn't really into those films, particularly but the Yeah, I guess I would. Probably still one of his best books is the is his first collection of essays, which is titled must we mean what we say? And that's got like the King Lear essay in it. So it's not that it's not that it's like, super accessible. Exactly. Definitely requires some like perseverance and like, but I guess it's just it's sort of dazzling still, in some ways. Like, it's just like, amazing. I think lots of so it's, but yeah, I guess the question of accessibility in general is kind of an interesting one. In relation to combat I guess we were sort of talking about this, but he has this paradoxical figure because it's like he, I think he is. People describe him as sort of dense and difficult. And I've definitely found some of his writing a slog, like even the his memoir, I remember being like, Oh, God. But the, but there's a certain kind of, like, ordinary diction, I suppose. Although I was thinking sorry, actually. Well, yeah, a ordinary kind of diction. Like he's not he's not using like he doesn't make up like new words like Derrida or whatever. Like he's not. It's not like you have to learn a kind of whole internal idiosyncratic language to To understand his writing, but yeah, it is but it's so it's but it's also kind of intimate. There's something like, even though he's not, I guess it's not that he really writes personal like really confessional. Obviously, the memoir is a somewhat confessional, I suppose. But it's not really that it's like, self-exposure, exactly. But there's just like a very strong sense of his presence and his voice. And it's like an intimate kind of writing, which I think—


Jon Baskin  45:23

It feels confessional even when it's not, I feel lie.


Lola Seaton  45:26

Yeah, exactly when it's kind of not literally confessional. And he does. Yeah, he himself, I think says that about his writing. But that makes it kind of intrinsically accessible, I think on some level. But it's interesting to think about this. Although he does write with ordinary words like acknowledgement, and the human and the ordinary and voice and these are all kind of, he does have a slightly like eccentric. He does. I mean, it's hard to like, think of an example. But he does have eccentric phrases. And like, he does have a kind of idiosyncratic way of using words, which actually make them sound quite weird sometimes, but are very sort of resonant and powerful sometimes that he really captures. I mean, he's got this like, and some of them you realize it sort of derived from some of his, like, real heroes, like he or there's obviously Wittgenstein, and yeah, last year, as we talked about, but there's also like, Thoreau and Emerson and other two other key figures for him that emerged somewhat later in the 70s, I think. But you they will, I mean, they've also got quite weird, like, styles in some ways, like, you know, or like, kind of, slightly like, grand, unusual words, in a way, but they and he, you sometimes find that he's actually borrowed borrowed phrases from those people. And like, acknowledgement, for example is an ordinary word, but it does become a somewhat like, it does become almost a technical concept and not dead honestly, technical, but like, it's a it's a real concept. Think of it all in the same way, like separation and finitude is another one he uses and avoidance and denial.


Jon Baskin  47:05

Yeah, that's almost like a personal meaning to him to his writing that you'd have to kind of get the hang. Yeah, exactly.


Lola Seaton  47:10

Exactly. That's good. Yeah.


Jon Baskin  47:13

Yeah. You know, yeah. So I mean, this is maybe follows from the question around accessibility, but also authenticity, which you mentioned—in your piece, you talk about you have you talk about Cavell in relation to modernism, actually, in the piece, I think you're talking about Wittgenstein's Investigations as a as a modernist work. But I know that also, in earlier drafts of the piece, there was more about cavallin modernism, and some of that got cut, not because it wasn't really interesting, and just who knows why, but, but I kind of wanted to ask you a little bit to say a little more about that. Because I think this, when you think about like, like, recommending Cavell to someone, I always have this sense, like, because of my own reaction to it, like, yeah, I've got to, like, prepare them, it'd be like, you've got to, like, hang with it, and like trust it in some way. And then at some point, you kind of either will become converted, or you won't, which doesn't mean you won't still like be irritated at times or whatever. But you'll you'll become converted to the idea that like something that like the style is in some way, like he says internal to the what he's saying it's justified by it in some way. And I guess that's a quality that I think that I relate to a lot of modernist works of art, mostly of art. But it's interesting to think of something like the investigations as being modernist in that sense. And so yeah, I just I wondered if you, you know, if you still think of think of that as a useful term to think about what Cavell was doing.


Lola Seaton  48:44

Yeah, I mean, so yeah, that he's described, or his disease described in the context of modernist writing, I think precisely, as you say, because of his divisiveness. Like, I think, in a tribute to him by Marshall Cohen, while kind of ambivalent tribute to him after he died in 2018. It was like said that he he divides readers into insiders and outsiders. Although I think he actually in that essay then says, and this wasn't because he was a modernist, but because he was because he was a bad writer. Not quite that. He says like, it was because of his personal idiosyncrasies is that he wrote this kind of troublesome, sometimes offensive prose and stuff. But I suppose like, yeah, there's something anecdotally anyway, something cultish about about covers reception, I think, which is like, I think this is somewhat explains my own, like ambivalence versus that you're kind of part of a you become you're like part of the pavilion like you're Cavell like and you don't necessarily like want to be part of that group necessarily, but you kind of are if you like it somehow, but then there's the kind of really benign and kind of nice side of that is that I've kind of found even though Cavell has got this because he's got such a kind of heterogenous body of work. As we say, going from Shakespeare to film to sort of fun and stuff like people can like it and have read very different bits of it and been taken with very different bits of it. But in general when you meet someone that likes Cavell, I think you do have a sense of that you share something quite profound, basically, what if that's the case with the taste in general, like when you it feels profound to like, share liking for for certain works of art and stuff, but I think that's particularly true of Cavell somehow, I guess, because of the kinds of those profound preoccupations about the human condition and whatever that like we've been talking about. So I suppose that that that kind of condition is, I guess, is associated with certain kinds of oneness work, although, I guess more difficult and resistant oneness work. And I think that's why I don't know if I quite there's something that I wouldn't describe covers workers like, resistant to, like there's not there's not it's not in deliberately trying to bring resisted read in a certain way or whatever. I mean, he would describe it, I think is like, demanding, and like acting, in a sense that he he demands a lot of himself and he therefore demands a lot of us that kind of, or is a slightly like, strenuous element to like his own writing until to reading him too. So yeah, I guess also the other thing though, that when he writes your does write about modern, the modern and modernism and he was just fun trying to find the right passage, but there's, I think, there's an essay in the essay collection I mentioned, his first one must be mean, what we say called Music discomposed. And in that he talks about, kind of like the experience of fraudulence as essential to modernism and an essential to all art but that modernism kind of radicalized is that almost like yeah, Radek radicalized is that idea that like that, you that in effect, when you're looking at a piece of art, you're kind of asking like, is this art? Like? That's one of the questions that you have to is this, is this the genuine article like is this whatever, like, toilet seat people? And I guess in a certain way, you could say that that is that question does, I mean, it could well saying it does arise and kind of everything we read and look at it, but I think in the sense that Cavell is modernists, I think you could say that that question does have a particular kind of acuity when you're reading Cavell because you are like, is this guy like, a phony? Like not a phony? But he's not that but is this? Is this guy just like, kind of like rambling? Or is this amazing? Like, is this like, Yeah,


Jon Baskin  52:37

well, and as you say, or is he a narcissist to like, which is a form of, I think, in that context often means to signal a certain kind of fraudulence or pretension, you know, a performance as opposed to something that like is genuine or authentic. And I think that that dynamic is very familiar from like modernist writing to where it's like the writer risks this and you as a reader have to like, ask that about the work of art or the piece of leather.


Lola Seaton  53:02

Yeah, yeah, exactly. I think. I think risk is actually also another kind of important thing to think about in relation to him because there is something risky, I think Richard Rorty describes him as like the most like, unguarded and like the philosopher who puts his neck out the most and I think of himself describes his his writing as like unguarded undisguised, like he's kind of, it's not that he's exposing literal details of his life, but he's like, he's putting himself on the line somehow. He's putting everything at stake. And he would sort of sometimes say that he's staking his life on things like he's, this is where maybe my like, I don't know, it could


Jon Baskin  53:38

be a little melodramatic. Sometimes.


Lola Seaton  53:41

It was dramatic, a little self serious sometimes, I guess. Which like, although, again, you have to wonder whether you are just in some way being avoidant, or, like respectable with that level of seriousness.


Jon Baskin  53:54

In return reminds me I don't know this is probably going to cause a groan. But I kept thinking, because because of the salience of autofiction in our culture right now, which I take to be like, one inheritance of modernism, but kind of with certain interesting differences. And I kept thinking of the term of whether anyone uses the term autophilosophy. For someone like Cavell, I'd like something about, you know, in here and there, you talk about how he talks about the undisguised struggle in his writing. And I thought of, you know, now started my struggle with the idea of actually demonizing one's own struggle within the work. And whether anyone I don't know if does that does that term? I don't know. I'm curious. Like if you've ever thought about that term in relation to to cover Oh,


Jon Baskin  54:38



Lola Seaton  54:38

That's a great term. I definitely haven't. I guess, well, what's his, what's that book? A Picture Philosophy it's called like, what's the image of that? 


Lola Seaton  54:44

It's like, it's like passages and that's the book from the Nineties, I think, which began as a lecture series, but that's that was his most kind of explicitly autobiographical—


Jon Baskin  55:00

Autobiographical exercises. 


Lola Seaton  55:02

That's it. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And autophilosophy. Yeah, definitely, I guess I'm just thinking about—the wan husks of autofiction... isn't—you wouldn't describe Cavell's writing as wan husks of autophilosophy, like it's extremely, like,


Jon Baskin  55:17

I'm a defender of autofiction or at least have it's like best exemplars, you know, people like Sheila had a and now scarred and so I like for me it's a compliment. But again, it's like there's obviously the risk of it being totally empty and we see examples of that too. And you could imagine so many people trying to do what Cavell does, and it just being like, awful.


Lola Seaton  55:38

Well, there's there's a line in I think in his autobiography, where his friend says, like, bad Cavell is awful. And I think, and I think that means both Cavell doing like Cavell not being great on his best form, whatever is awful, but I think that also means like derivative Cavell is awful. Meaning like people like me, who, when they first started getting into Cavell would basically it ended up writing somewhat like him I, the thing I discussed in, in the piece is like my own kind of, I have no quote like Covelli and infection, but just like, his style, however it is idiosyncratic it's somehow infectious, I think precisely because it's got this like, it has this sort of slack and the sentences he uses. He says phrases like, I would like to say that that I wish I could have said or like, I almost feel prepared to say that. Like, it's almost like he's always like hedging and auto generating his own statements in some sense as if. So it's Yeah, and it's like, basically, that's kind of useful, because if you don't want to, you're not sure what you're saying you can, you're kind of being given these tools to be approximate in some ways, which is useful in writing because it doesn't always come out right the first time and stuff. And then obviously, you want to edit it and make it nicer which cover doesn't bother doing, basically. But I think that when I like when you read pieces about Gabel by his kind of acolytes, or people that are clearly a big admirers of him, some of them really do, right, like you recognize they've caught the infection too, and they have a lot of stuff. And I do find it probably because I'm, myself was a sufferer. I also find I find that like a bit off putting I'm like, There's something about like seeing derivative notice it's not is like not, I guess it's kind of relates to the whole like fraudulence thing but like you want people to have their own voices basically. And to like, I think that that's kind of thing cuz I was, I think a bit aware of as well where he was, he was obviously like, he taught philosophy and he was he seemed to enjoy teaching and be very good at it. And his students say like, he was amazing at kind of liberating you to speak like, he was like, not at all like a monologue or whatever. And he does seem like a very generous kind of interlocutor in general. But nonetheless, like, there is a way in which he is he does have a kind of charismatic voice and mode of writing and thinking which I kind of feel like students like myself can you can end up Yeah, slightly being smothered by and you need to I think you have to, like exercise it. Yeah, yeah, I kind of felt you need to, like go there. And then like, recover. Like,


Jon Baskin  58:22

we both shared the experience of like, looking at emails we wrote where we were like in Cavell like, period, and seeing like, all these extra clauses, but I think you're right, there's something like if you can liberate yourself from the very specific stylistic tics of Cabal, there's something there about, like learning to pay attention to your own inner monologue in a way that, you know, which again, obviously always risks this narcissism and involution. But at the same time can also be part of how you sort of communicate to someone why a certain problem has become resonate for you. And why why you want to talk about it.


Lola Seaton  58:58

Yeah, exactly. Like, I think there's always the risk of subjectivism or relativism or narcissism, like you know, it's not if you're writing, you know, it's not interesting to people necessarily that like that I thought about my dinner when I was watching that TV, TV show, whatever, like, you know, that you need to like, but I think, I guess, criticism or general communication about things like oh, I suppose are partly about testing, or discovering the boundaries of, of the relevant and the interesting to other people. And I sense that that's why they're like, have a kind of sociality, or they kind of where they're kind of important, I guess to us, which we want to find out what we share and what's interesting, because, but I do think that like yeah, Cavell is one of those writers who kind of enacts and therefore licenses, your own attention to your experience, and what you're really feeling when you're reading something, and that makes you a good reader, I think in like a kind of very capacious sense like a redo of everything. Like if you feel like If you, you can take your own experience seriously of what you're reading, you're not having, you're not trying to have the experience you think you should be having, you're paying attention to what you don't understand or what's incoherent or that feels like a kind of widely transferable sort of mode of attention. But I would say the only thing that he does say, This is what I mean by, I think, sometimes necessary to remember the rigor of his his writing and thinking and not just think of it as like this pure like, attention to himself, which is that he does say things like, you need to let the object of your interest or the object you're considering teach you how to consider it or whatever. It's like, I guess returned to the opening sentence of the claim of reason. He's, that opening sentence is sort of teaching you how to read this book that you're about to read. And I guess that's the sense in which you actually, you're it's not a tool about just like bringing your own baggage to everything you read, it's like actually about being totally responsive to the singularity of the object you are.


Jon Baskin  1:01:05

And that's, that's one of the reasons like as someone who did a lot of sort of in grad school, my focus was sort of the intersections between literature and philosophy. And I read a lot of philosophers writing about literature. And for the most part, they do the thing you were just saying, the second thing, they have a theory, they go to a work of literature, they sort of tell you how it demonstrates this theory or cuts against it or whatever. And I Cavell was so distinct in this regard for the sense that like, first of all, his attention to form in artworks, and then second of all, the ability to sort of, or at least, to give the reader the impression that he was allowing the artwork to teach him something philosophically, as opposed to just be an example of something. I think it's like, is really unusual. Yeah, yeah.


Lola Seaton  1:01:52

Totally. Again, just to sort of then reverse that like, like, although he is very open to the singularity of the object, or whatever, like, not just as you say, as an example of some like, prior theory, he also does. I think you get this if you if anyone reads the new collection, the posthumous collection here in there, like he is, there was a certain kind of intransigence or in flexibility in his mind, I think, I mean, not in his mind, but just like he, he really likes, you know, Wittgenstein, Austen, Emerson and Thoreau, and like, you just coming back to some of the same Yeah, there is those passages like that, that he just goes back to same things and anything he approaches, like, if he's reading Walter Benjamin or like, Whatever, whatever subject he comes to, he's like, he can really only come to it with that kind of like arsenal in a certain sort of, it's like he has to almost like absorb this new alien thinker or whatever into his like, it is syncretic universe or he kind of can't touch it at all. There's something like a bit all or nothing about his like, yeah, something sort of, yeah, slightly slightly intransigent and like, inflexible about him who's who's like, yeah, approach to the foreign. Yeah.


Jon Baskin  1:03:08

So we're getting toward the end, I just wanted to ask you a sort of a sort of unrelated maybe not totally unrelated to what we've been talking about, but you know, you're an editor at New Left Review, which is a very much a political magazine. And I wonder like, you don't talk about this much in the article but like, if you feel that Cavell you know, do you think he had a political politics or a political valence in his writing? How do you see that part of what you do in relation to your dissertation on Cavell? He certainly wrote about politics at times, but he's not often the kind of philosopher that's like, quoted, you know, in political essays.


Lola Seaton  1:03:51

Yeah. It's a good question. Because it's like a kind of silence in his work. I mean, it's not a silence. That's not quite true. But he does say things like he says, He's, like, shy of politics. And, and yeah, I think it's, I don't know. I mean, there's been essays about the new book, which have pointed that out. All the criticisms have been like, voiced in terms of not quite politics, but just like He not that he's not at all reactionary, but like, they're just something like, yeah, conservative and about, like, this idea that we have these forms of life and we have these like, conventions and we all like,


Jon Baskin  1:04:32

well, just yeah, the idea that conventions run deep and are not just like aims to be overturned, or,


Lola Seaton  1:04:38

Like, yeah, exactly. He's not looking at like, how do we change the world? Like, how do we transform our forms of life explicitly anyway? And I think this kind of comes down to partly an aversion to, to antagonism in his like, all that's kind of his whole like, raison d'etre. I feel like it's only Almost like, I think in his, you know, his early, early writing, he'll talk about his writing is kind of intervening in a way where he feels like philosophers are talking past one another, like they're arguing about these things, but they don't seem to be hearing each other or like, and it's almost like he's writing he writes in this as he would say, very known as unassertive non combative way. And he's, he's trying to, like, I guess, like, dissolve argument rather than win them or, like, come down on neither side of one. And I think like, yeah, being, being a political being means, like, understanding there were conflicts. And I think there's a kind of, I associate his, his relative, that kind of aporia in his, in his work or lacuna, or whatever it is, like related to his, his aversion to to antagonism and, and combat basically, which I kind of think because I'm sure he would read he would understand psychoanalytically basically in his in himself, but But yeah, I do find it somewhat like I guess, I don't know how to understand that in myself. Like what's I mean, what's my I mean, I guess I must be quite attracted to that. Do that in a sense of not not necessarily being on political but just like, I think that yeah, I think I do know what it's like to find it quite troubling when people disagree in a certain way like and have radically different worldviews, and like, and even different tastes. Like, that can be like a real, that can be a troubling thing, I think. And I think well, I guess to me, is, maybe, yeah, partly compelling, because he finds ways of talking about that. And I guess also resolving those rifts.

Rachel Wiseman  1:04:38

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