Saturday, June 23, 2018

Stanley Cavell (1926–2018)

Stanley Cavell on watching tragic drama:

Now I can give one answer to the question: Why do I do nothing, faced with tragic events? If I do nothing because I am distracted by the pleasures of witnessing this folly, or out of my knowledge of the proprieties of the place I am in, or because I think there will be some more appropriate time in which to act, or because I feel helpless to un-do events of such proportion, then I continue my sponsorship of evil in the world, its sway waiting upon these forms of inaction. I exit running. But if I do nothing because there is nothing to do, where that means that I have given over the time and space in which action is mine and consequently that I am in awe before the fact that I cannot do and suffer what it is another’s to do and suffer, then I confirm the final fact of our separateness. And that is the unity of our condition.

The only essential difference between them and me is that they are there and I am not.

“The Avoidance of Love: A Reading of King Lear,” in Must We Mean What We Say? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969).
Stanley Cavell, philosopher, died earlier this week. The New York Times has an obituary.

[I can’t help reading this passage — which, again, is about watching a play — in light of what it feels like to watch “the news.”]

comments: 4

The Crow said...

I cannot get away from the images of grief- and terror-stricken children being separated from their parents. I want to do something, I have nothing to lose by taking action, yet here I sit, feeling numb and lost. I feel overwhelmed by the apparent enormity of the problem and by the suggested numbers of those who support this madness.

I want to gather 20,000 decent human beings, safely ensconced American citizens who do not yet face this horrific injustice, and have each one of us go stand beside one of these children to offer whatever comfort we can until they are reunited with their loved ones. I want us to put a face to the decency that is this nation to counteract the disgusting, foul visages currently presented to the rest of the world.

How does one person start such an action? It isn't enough for me to leave a comment on someone else's blog. I have to do more than this.

Michael Leddy said...

I call my representative; I give money; I speak up when I can. None of which us enough. But I’m remembering the passage I quoted yesterday about individual conscience.

The Crow said...

For all I know, there might already be movements afoot to fight this stupidity. If so, I can add my voice, give what I can, to support those efforts.

The Crow said...

And there it was, an answer to my lament, at the end of my nose: the American Friends Service Committee. What kind of Quaker am I if I could not remember that?