“Endless Specific Recoveries”: on the Genre of the Essay in Cavell

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The work of Stanley Cavell is rich with insight about the philosophical significance of ways of writing, but little has been written about the essay form he adopts for his own texts. In this article, I link Cavell’s preference for the essay with his account of scepticism as an anxiety about ‘the human conditions of knowledge and action’—specifically language. I argue that Cavell’s writing style reflects his ethical commitment to the ‘resettling’ of the everyday as a means of recovery from sceptical anxiety. The essay form, in contrast to the analytic ideal of a neutral or scientific text, is particularly well-suited to the activity of resettlement—a gesture of repetition that involves the interplay of inheritance and originality, seeing the same anew. This account of Cavell’s style speaks to the philosophical relevance of genre and raises broader questions about the practice of philosophical writing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-106
Number of pages18
JournalPli: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


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