Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gould, Tim. Review of Lawrence Rhu, STANLEY CAVELL'S AMERICAN DREAM. OLP & LITERARY STUDIES ONLINE. August 19, 2010.

Rhu, Lawrence. Stanley Cavell’s American Dream: Shakespeare, Philosophy, and Hollywood Movies. New York: Fordham UP, 2006.

Lawrence Rhu’s Stanley Cavell’s American Dream is one of the most interesting books on Cavell’s work to be published in the last decade. Rhu’s book examines what he calls the “convergence and elaboration” of three “major subjects in the philosophy of Stanley Cavell” (1): Shakespeare (especially the Romances and the “Roman” plays), Emerson, and Hollywood movies (in particular the comedies and the melodramas that Cavell comes to focus on). Rhu’s intention is to reveal something significant about Cavell’s work through the fact and content of this convergence. But he is also attempting to use this convergence to make Cavell’s thought more accessible to a wider audience. He characterizes this potentially wider audience as those that would not normally find themselves involved in “the writings of professional philosophers” (1).

Rhu is a Renaissance scholar who aims to reshape the preoccupations of his field. Where others have been content to borrow Cavell’s insights about a particular field of study (for instance Shakespeare, film, the American Renaissance, or the nature of political community), Rhu explicitly wants the convergence of the fields to illuminate the core of Cavell’s work. He wants to examine this core as the goal of the convergence of these topics. He is certainly well aware that the historical direction of Cavell’s explorations is more explicitly outward, beginning with issues like skepticism and perfectionism. In Rhu’s argument, the outward movement of Cavell’s work implies the possibility of inward and convergent paths. He suggests that the very possibility of this convergence provides a wider access to Cavell’s work and even a kind of argument in favor of Cavell’s insights. He thus wants more than abstract structural analogies, such as the ones sketched in by Stephen Mulhall. He wants something of substance and content to provide the center towards which these fields converge. Herein lies the problem and the promise of this challenging book.

Rhu does not try to name the territory towards which the three areas of Cavell’s thought are tending. Indeed, there is a kind of provisional, Emersonian quality to any such effort to point to the heart of the matter of Cavell’s project. He does, however, make various efforts at characterizing this central ground. . . .

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