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Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory (Cultural Memory in the Present) Hardcover – July 23, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Film and literature are where Cavell sees these issues most profoundly and, in a way, most philosophically enacted, which accounts for the excitement with which his work has been greeted by non-philosophers. His autobiography, Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory, is itself a work of literature, as much a testing and investigation of voice as it is a human record . . . What Cavell gives us is a way to hear what we already know, but refuse to face. Little Did I know makes it clear that we already know more than enough. Our problem is a refusal to acknowledge it."—Thomas Gardner, Books and Culture


"[S]tunning . . . What appears at first as a recapitulation of the themes of a life . . . reveals itself in its final pages, with breathtaking emotional force, as a farewell to the father as complex and elusive as it is ordinary . . . A master teacher."—Matthew Goulish, TDR: The Drama Review


"Alongside the memories themselves are many meditations on the art of remembering, of retelling stories. This is Cavell at his most philosophical, so it is compelling stuff . . . Writing, like philosophy, and like life, does not provide answers. Like all his works, these memoirs are intended to have a therapeutic effect—for the writer as well as the reader."—Katrina Forrester, Cambridge Literary Review


"Stanley Cavell's recent book, Little Did I Know: Excerpts From Memory, is an unusual and absorbing work of recollection . . . At the close of this magisterial, idiosyncratic and rewarding book, it is not easy to know where we have ended up. Yet it is a fascinating place to find ourselves."—Adam Gonya, Yearbook of the Irish Philosophical Society


"It is in [Cavell's] ability to intervene in his own storytelling to explain something further that the autobiography emerges as an important work of Cavellian philosophy . . . Little Did I Know takes on the challenge of using ordinary language to face a real threat, the actual end to the writer's thought. Thus, the memoir emerges not as a simple autobiography, but rather as the undertaking of the philosophical task Cavell has set, the attainment of peace through the repositioning of himself against his pending death . . . His autobiography becomes the marker of himself in history, the reminder to himself and to his readers that he exists in relation to all with which he interacts."—Alexanda Manglis, Oxonian Review
"Stanley Cavell's Little Did I Know belongs alongside other great works of self-examination that are also indispensable explorations of the human condition, books such as the Essais of Montaigne and the journals of Cavell's own beloved Emerson. Cavell's work has always been about the complexity of human life, and his own experience has always been present in his philosophy. His memoir deepens our understanding of both his life and his philosophy. It is a work of great particularity—Cavell's own life from Depression-era Atlanta to late twentieth-century Harvard—but also a work of profound universality, a thoughtful man's reflections on everything from fitting into his clothes and fitting into high school to finding friends, peers, love, personal calling, and social justice. This book is a treasure."—Paul Guyer, University of Pennsylvania
"Widely acknowledged to be one of the most original thinkers in the United States, Stanley Cavell has always emphasized that autobiography is intrinsic to all interesting philosophical writing. Little Did I Know is more than a philosopher's story of his life: it is itself a piece of philosophy."—Espen Hammer, Temple University
"From its extraordinary beginning to its enlightened ending, this is a great work of literature of philosophy. Incomparable as well as peerless, Little Did I Know makes powerful contributions to psychology, to psychoanalysis, and to the art of writing, especially that of autobiography. It will contribute to how we understand the lives of philosophers and will be read with pleasure and utility for decades and centuries to come."—Marc Shell, Harvard University

About the Author

Stanley Cavell is Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value, Emeritus, at Harvard University.
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Product Details

  • Series: Cultural Memory in the Present
  • Hardcover: 584 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press (July 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080477014X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804770149
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #564,308 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One does not have to be a philosopher or an academic to enjoy this autobiography of this well-regarded philosopher. One might not even enjoy reading autobiographies generally, but this is more than an autobiography - it spliced deep philosophical thoughts into the narration of the author's life - to date. Written as a journal from 2 July 2003 to 1 September 2004, the author, born of Eastern European (Polish) immigrants to Atlanta, Cavell spoke humbly and arrestingly about his Jewish background. His mother's family were "Seagals". His father, originally Kavelieriskii, renamed his surname "Goldstein". Cavell changed his own name to Cavell at age 17 when he went to Berkeley where he eventually started his tenure as a professor before moving to Harvard.

He talked about his experiences as he was brought up, all of which he infused serious thoughts. For example, when he was admonished for not cleaning his plate when people are starving in India, he muses over the relevance and futility of the plight of starving people as well as the relevance and futility of his cleaning his plate. He talks about films that he watched with his family, and books he had read, and those he wrote - especially "Must We Mean What We Say?" and "The Claim to Reason". His most serious thoughts invariably turned to three men who appeared to have deeply influenced him - Wittgenstein, J L Austin, and his father. His accounts of his father were always touchiing and sweet. When asked by the immigration officer at Ellis Island what his birthday was, his father replied, "Today's my birthday." Though his father subsequently admitted that he made up this story, Cavell retold it to show the sense of humour and imagination his father employed in his fatherly influence over him.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I know this man through my family but I know very little about philosophy. I do suggest that anyone with an interest in academia, philosophy, Freud, and the art (I should say process) of thinking should read his work. Also those who are curious about what artistic and intellectual courage looks like, and costs.

Why does Stanley Cavell write? Because he wants to. What does he want to write about? What he cares about. What does he care to think about? Whatever he wants to. Why is this so rare of philosophers? Because they go along with the program or stop thinking at some juncture.

Why did it take so long to finish his PhD? There are many answers. Music consumed him until his early twenties, which was also the occupation of his mother who earned a "man's salary" as a piano player. Some answers to the delay he finds on the Freudian couch (which he sees as a manifestation of philosophy), some in his own convictions, and some in the shortness of time itself. As he quotes his children about finally submitting his work (letting go of something not yet perfect): "Whatever!"

The title of the books gives me no end of pleasure, because it has several meanings, one of which is humility. When do you run into an academic who is warm and "cares" about things--music, film, ideas, and the people around him. I am sure the title also has to do with skepticism, and that one of his inspirations (Wittgenstein) pointed to the great limitations, and overuse, of language in the realm of philosophy.

I borrow the name of this review from a Simple Matter of Conviction, which is an album by jazz pianist Bill Evans. The value of improvisation, and blending classical (hi art) and jazz (at one time not a high art) has resonance for me.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating book, a bit too long and a bit repetitious, but mana for an (academic) philosopher. Cavell was (is?) obviously a talented musician before committing himself to philosophy with an almost religious devotion to truth, rather than "the good" or "the beautiful." His notion of philosophy seems to have been inspired primarily by WIttgenstein and Austin, but he remains distinctively American in his willingness to treat Emerson and Thoreau, as well as Dewey, as genuine philosophers and he has done as much as anyone I know of to bring film or movies into philosophy as a major art form. Cavell's tales of his itinerary from Juilliard through Berkeley and UCLA to Harvard are enlightening of the bad as well as the good effects that the academicization of philosophy has had on the discipline. This "oedipean" story of Cavell's life utilizes the myth of Oedipus at Colonus rather than that of Oedipus Rex, but oedipian it is--to the point of painfulness. I wish I had read this memoir before trying to read Cavell the philosopher.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm familiar with much of Cavell's work and studied with him many years ago. This autobiography is both personal and philosophical. A real treat to be allowed inside the mind of a genius.
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Format: Hardcover
Although it is undeniable that this book contains rich insights about philosophy, its writing style is very hard to read peacfully. This book is as if to tell "a sensitive, emotional, and profound" guy, who has been so succesful. Worse than those French writers. There is nothing so special within self, so please tell what your story, thought, or anything about yourself with everyday language. It can not be like Shaspere, who intended to write "beautiful", but like Wittgensein who are thinking carefully.
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