Author Archives: bmdavies

Call for Papers: Issue 2 of Conversations: The Journal of Cavellian Studies

Amir Khan, together with Sérgio Dias Branco one of the two managing editors of Conversations: The Journal of Cavellian Studies, has written us to announce a call for papers for the journal’s second issue.

The topic of this issue is Cavell and History. You can read about the topic below. To read more about the journal, you can visit its website here. You can read its first issue here.

Call for Papers: Cavell and History

Whatever one makes of Cavell’s writings, one can hardly say they are historical. We are told, for example, America’s military entanglement weighs in on his thoughts in “Disowning Knowledge,” but what exactly has King Lear to do with Vietnam? Does the essay require, or deserve, proper historicizing? Would such an exercise be to the benefit of Cavellian study, or to its detriment?

Moreover, Cavell himself explicitly, if still somewhat coyly, historicizes his skeptical argument in his introduction to his collection of essays on Shakespeare. Coy, because Cavell is hardly interested in employing a “professional” historical methodology. When he discusses the “advent of skepticism,” as, historically speaking, marking the appearance of Shakespeare, Descartes, and the New Science, he notes also that, fictionally speaking, the Roman world of Shakespeare, as depicted in Antony and Cleopatra, is “haunted by the event of Christianity.” Do competing threads of Romanization, Christianization, the advent of skepticism, the New Science, and, say, Renaissance theatre require sorting out?

Lastly, in discussing the appearance of what he coins the seven comedies of remarriage in Pursuits of Happiness, he expressly denies a cause-and-effect relationship leading to the appearance of this new genre:

My thought is that the genre emerges full-blown, in a particular instance first (or a set of them if they are simultaneous), and then works out its internal consequences in further instances. So that, as I would like to put it, it has no history, only a birth and a logic (or a biology). (27-28)

Once again, we accept submissions from all theoretical perspectives and disciplines and encourage attempts to assimilate seemingly disparate disciplinary areas of Cavell’s thinking. For the second issue of Conversations, the editors welcome papers that engage with Cavell’s different, perhaps undecided or indecisive, views on history and historicization. Possible paper topics include:

- historicizing Cavell
– the use of Cavell in broader philosophical discourse – philosophizing history
– historicizing philosophy
– the authority of history versus the authority of self
– the influence of Marx on Cavell’s thought
– the influence of Heidegger on Cavell’s thought
– the influence of Hegel on Cavell’s thought

Papers should be no more than 6000 words, including footnotes, and must follow the notes and bibliography citation system described in The Chicago Manual of Style. We also welcome shorter, more intimate pieces addressing specific questions (800-1200 words). Complete articles should be sent by July 31st, 2014 to 

“Grammatical Stirrings: A visit by Richard Fleming” at Duke University

On March 20 and 21 Duke University’s Center for Philosophy, Arts, and Literature (PAL) will host a lecture and workshop with Richard Fleming (Philosophy, Bucknell University). The March 20 lecture is titled “Listening to Cage: ExperimentationChanceSilenceAnarchism,” and the March 21 workshop is titled “Reading Cavell’s The Claim of Reason–Threads of the Inner and Outer.” Schedules and flyers are below.



Listening to Cage

A Lecture by Richard Fleming

Thursday, March 20
FHI Garage
Smith Warehouse, Bay 4, 1st Floor
Duke University
Reception to follow in the Audiovisualities Lab




Reading Cavell’s The Claim of Reason–Threads of the Inner and Outer

A workshop with Richard Fleming. Excerpted reading available on the website.

(RSVP to


Friday, March 21, 10am-5pm

Morning Session: 10am-12:30pm

Lunch Provided 

Afternoon Session: 2pm-5pm

Dinner party to follow. 

FHI Garage 
Smith Warehouse, Bay 4, 1st Floor 
Duke University

Workshop: “Self, Knowledge, Expression,” Nov. 2 at Harvard


A one-day workshop hosted by the Harvard Department of Philosophy.

Friday, November 2nd, 2012
(Morning Session: 10am-12:20pm; Afternoon Session: 2pm-6pm)

Plimpton Seminar Room
Barker Center 133
12 Quincy St
Harvard University

To download a flyer, please click here.


David Finkelstein, University of Chicago
“Consciousness Extended Backwards”
(10-11:10 AM)

Valérie Aucouturier, Center Leo Apostel, Vrije Universiteit Brussels
“Practical Knowledge and the Expression of Intention”
(11:20 AM-12:30 PM)

Matthew Boyle, Harvard University
“The Need for Expression”
(2-3:10 PM)

Sophie Djigo, CURAPP, Amiens
“The Discrete Self and Discretionary Authority”
(3:10-4:20 PM)

Berislav Marušić, Brandeis University
“Against the Evidence”
(4:30-5:40 PM)

Closing discussion chaired by:
Richard Moran, Harvard University
(5:40-6:30 PM)


The notion of ‘expression’ plays a distinctive role, or a number of distinctive roles, in a tradition of thought associated with Wittgenstein, Elizabeth Anscombe, Stanley Cavell, and others. Wittgenstein accords a crucial role to the expression of sensations in establishing the meaning of sensation terms, and he appeals to the notion of expression to defuse difficulties about how we know our own minds.   Anscombe gives a special importance to the expression of intention in understanding the unity of the concept of intention.  And in his discussion of knowledge of other minds, Cavell connects the possession of knowledge of the other to its expressibility in acknowledgment.  The notion also figures suggestively in the work of a variety of philosophers not grounded in this Wittgensteinian tradition, notably Herder, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre.

The purpose of the present workshop is to consider the importance of the notion of expression and related notions (transparency, making manifest, telling, etc.) for a variety of areas of philosophical inquiry and dispute.  Our aim will be to reflect on questions such as the following: What is the notion of expression, and what, if anything, is its significance for the philosophy of mind, and for epistemology?  In what way might it be relevant to the understanding of human communication, and more generally, to our knowledge of the thoughts and feelings of other persons?  What light can it shed on our capacity to know our own minds?  What is its bearing on the understanding of human action?

For more information, please contact:
Richard Moran ( or Byron Davies

Oded Na’aman: “The Checkpoint: Terror, Power, and Cruelty”

The current issue of the Boston Review features a piece by my friend and colleague Oded Na’aman (Ph.D. candidate, Department of Philosophy, Harvard) on the experience of working at a checkpoint in the West Bank. Besides the obvious political significance of the piece, it should be of interest to anyone concerned with the problem of other minds, reciprocal recognition, and the conditions of speech. You can access the article here. This is how it begins:

One morning, when I was about four years old, I proudly announced from the back seat of my family’s car, “Mother, I want you to know that I am the first kid in my whole kindergarten to think inside my head rather than out loud.” The car slowed to a standstill as we waited for the light to change. My mother turned to me, smiled, and said softly, “How do you know you’re the first?”

I was speechless. With one brief question, she had made the world a stranger to me and made me a stranger in my own world. She unveiled a universe of goings-on, a whole new brand of human activity that everyone I knew—the friends I played with, my sisters, even my parents—was engaged in, which I could have no access to. I sat on the staircase that day in kindergarten, observing the other kids play. Using my recently acquired skill, I wondered silently, with unmistakable trepidation, “Who knows what they are thinking?”

I soon regained my trust and grew up believing in the people around me. I knew there were dangers, but I felt certain I was not alone and therefore not helpless in facing them.

Fourteen years after my big kindergarten discovery, I was conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). At the West Bank checkpoints, the terror of other minds took over again. It occupied my soul.


Boston University Workshop on Late Modern Philosophy

This weekend the Boston University Philosophy Department will be holding the first in what promises to be an annual series of workshops on Late Modern Philosophy (roughly the period from 1750 through 1900). This year’s workshop will focus on philosophical psychology and ethics. Information is available here. The schedule is below.

Friday, October 14th

1:30-2:50   Bernard Reginster (Brown University)
“The Will to Nothingness: Nietzsche on the Meaning of the Ascetic Ideal”

3:00-4:20   Sally Sedgwick (University of Illinois-Chicago)
“Freedom and Necessity in Hegel’s Philosophy of History and Philosophy
of Right

4:30-6:00   Keynote Speaker: Alexander Nehamas (Princeton University)
“Nietzsche, Intention, Action”

6:00-7:00 Reception

Saturday, October 15th

9:00-10:20  Paul Katsafanas (Boston University)
“Kant and Nietzsche on the Will: Two Models of Reflective Agency”

10:30-11:50   Maudemarie Clark (Colgate College/University of
California-Riverside) and David Dudrick (Colgate University)
“Nietzsche’s Philosophical Psychology: Will to Power as a Theory of the Soul”

12:00-1:30  Break for lunch

1:30-2:50   Charles Griswold (Boston University)
“Loving Another as though Yourself: Rousseau on Narcissism, Self-Love,
and Social Decay”

3:00-4:20   Frederick Neuhouser (Barnard College/Columbia University)
“Hegel on Life, Freedom, and Social Pathology”

4:30-5:50   Michael Rosen (Harvard University)
“The Darstellungsproblem

6:00-7:00   Reception

Photos from J.L. Austin Centenary Conference: Plaque Unveiling

I wanted to share some photos I took during the last day of the J.L. Austin Centenary Conference in Lancaster, England (mentioned earlier here and here). Some of the conference participants joined members of Austin’s family and members of the Lancaster Civic Society in unveiling a plaque to commemorate Austin’s birthplace. It was a joyous event.


Before the unveiling.

Members of Austin's family, with representatives from the Lancaster Civic Society.

The plaque unveiled.

The garden behind Austin's first home.

Harvard Workshop in European Philosophy: Heidegger and Wittgenstein

On Friday Dec. 10 Harvard will host a day-long workshop on Heidegger and Wittgenstein. You can download the conference flier here. This is the schedule:

10:15-11:15am   MICHAEL ROSEN AND PETER GORDON (Harvard) – European Philosophy in the Early Twentieth Century: a discussion
11:45-1:00pm   EDWARD MINAR (University of Arkansas) – “Understanding the Being of the Philosophical ‘We’: Thoughts on Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Idealism”
Chair: SEAN KELLY (Harvard)
1:00-2:15pm   LUNCH BREAK
2:15-3:45pm ANDREAS ELPIDOROU (Boston University) – “The Epistemology of Moods Revisited”
EYLEM ÖZALTUN (Harvard) – “Non-cognitivism and the critique of traditional metaphysics in Wittgenstein and Heidegger”
4:15-5:30pm   MAX DE GAYNESFORD (University of Reading) – “Mineness and Meanness in Heidegger and Wittgenstein”
Chair: RICHARD MORAN (Harvard)
5:30-6:00pm  RECEPTION
6:00pm  DINNER

The workshop will be held in the Belfer Case Room (Concourse Level) in CGIS South (1730 Cambridge St, Cambridge MA). Anyone wishing to attend the workshop dinner should email Bernardo Zacka: bzacka at fas dot harvard dot edu.


Michael Fried’s Favorite Books of 2010

The December/January issue of Bookforum features Michael Fried‘s favorite books of 2010. Fried was selected by the editors because his book The Moment of Caravaggio was one of their own favorite books of the year. Here is Fried’s contribution:

True-Love: Essays on Poetry and Valuing (2009) by Allen Grossman. Stunning essays by the most profound poetic intelligence of our time. Try “The Passion of Laocoön” and you will see. (Let me also recommend Grossman’s most recent book of poems, Descartes’ Loneliness.) Summertime (2009) by J. M. Coetzee. A fictive investigation into the life of a writer named John Coetzee when he was in his thirties. Brilliant, lacerating sentences, seemingly so simple, come at you one after another right up to the end. I read it in one sitting and put it down shaken and exhilarated. Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy by Robert B. Pippin. A short book, originally lectures at the Collège de France, that manages a radical rethinking of Nietzsche’s self-understanding with great erudition, force, and lucidity. Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory by Stanley Cavell. A partial autobiography imagined and executed with all of Cavell’s characteristic amalgam of writerly originality and philosophical depth. It will be a long time before we take its measure. 89/90 by Michael Schmidt. A photobook published to coincide with Schmidt’s remarkable exhibition at the Haus der Kunst in Munich. Black-and-white photo­graphs of Berlin from 1989-90 of the most utter nondes­cript­­ness, sequenced so as to evoke a kind of consummate musical perfection.

You can read about Bookforum‘s other featured authors and what books they recommend here.

Elaine May at Harvard Film Archive

Apropos the previous post, I’m excited to announce to our Boston-area readers that Elaine May will be visiting the Harvard Film Archive this weekend to discuss two of her films as director, Mikey and Nickey (Friday November 12 at 7 PM) and Ishtar (Saturday November 13 at 7 PM). Both events are open to the public and cost $12. May’s two other films as director will be screened on Sunday November 14: A New Leaf (7 PM) and The Heartbreak Kid (9 PM). Here is the HFA’s description of the series:

The extraordinary films and career of Elaine May (b. 1932) defy easy classification. One of the only woman filmmakers active in postwar Hollywood since Ida Lupino – and, like Lupino, also an accomplished actress – May had to fight at almost every step against an increasingly obstructionist studio establishment in order to direct the four remarkable features that have cemented her reputation as a willful iconoclast, unyielding perfectionist and brilliantly original artist. While May’s first two films – A New Leaf and The Heartbreak Kid – together won her acclaim as a director of comedies, both effectively challenged traditional audiences and expectations for American film comedy with their distinctly unflattering portraits of incurably self-absorbed characters willing to sacrifice anything or anyone – even their newly-wedded spouses – to live out their selfish and quixotic dreams of success. Updating the Thirties screwball comedy of remarriage for the Seventies age of the anti-hero, the films strike an unusual balance between the abrasive and the affectionate by rendering their rakish lout protagonists as strangely vulnerable and sympathetic, cracked emblems of human vanity and foible. May’s next films were brave risks that each took unexpected, often controversial, turns away from her earlier work – first the dark and caustic deconstruction of the gangster film, Mikey and Nicky, and then the gleefully trenchant satire of American foreign policy and cockeyed optimism, Ishtar, whose infamous box office failure seems to have forced an effective and woefully premature end to May’s filmmaking career to date.

Born into a family of stage actors, May first found fame in partnership with her University of Chicago classmate Mike Nichols when they formed the wildly successful and influential comedy team Nichols and May. The toast of radio, television and eventually Broadway during their seven years together, Nichols and May helped shape the course of contemporary stand-up comedy with hilarious improvisatory skits that playfully captured the absurdity of life in an increasingly bureaucratized, professionalized and sanitized society. A highly gifted and prolific writer, May quickly distinguished herself as a writer and director of such impressive plays as Death Defying Acts (1995) and Not Enough Rope (1962) that matched her mordant wit with dark satire. The resolute independence of vision and voice embodied by May’s comedic and theatrical work immediately defined her subsequent career as a filmmaker and placed her in inevitable and frequent conflict with the hierarchical creative process favored by Hollywood. Channeling the lightening quick comedy of her stand-up work and the elegantly taut structures of her plays, May’s films cut deep against the grain of the mainstream cinema by wielding sharp-edged humor and unusual caricature to offer a biting yet richly ambiguous critique of masculinity, social mores and politics. Although May’s adamant refusal to compromise may have fixed an inevitable expiration date on her filmmaking career, her four films continue to enrich the American cinema immeasurably by remaining always at the cutting edge, ahead of their time and still ahead of ours.

The Harvard Film Archive is located in the Carpenter Center (24 Quincy St. Cambridge, MA).