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Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory (Cultural Memory in the Present) Hardcover – July 23, 2010
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"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 particularityCavell's own life from Depression-era Atlanta to late twentieth-century Harvardbut 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
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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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›