New Book by Kyle Stevens: “Mike Nichols: Sex, Language, and the Reinvention of Psychological Realism”


We’re pleased to announce the appearance of a new book by Kyle Stevens (Cinema Studies and English, Colby College), titled Mike Nichols: Sex, Language, and the Reinvention of Psychological Realism (Oxford University Press). Below is some information Stevens provided us about the book, and in particular its relationship to Ordinary Language Philosophy.

In The World Viewed, Stanley Cavell writes: “It is an incontestable fact that in a motion picture no live human being is up there. But a human something is, and something unlike anything else we know.” In his new book, Kyle Stevens explores the category of these human somethings, which, as Cavell suggests, inform and gird our own ideas of the category of the human. He does so through the study of performer and director Mike Nichols. With iconic movies like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, and Carnal Knowledge, Nichols was the most prominent American director during the cultural upheavals of the 1960s. It was also during the late 1960s and 1970s, as Film Studies crystallized into an academic discipline, that psychological realism became linked to both classical Hollywood and continuity editing. The style was derided as theatrical, or worse, bourgeois, a product of a capitalism that valorized individual personality. This view persists, though often tacitly. Yet, we must attribute some degree of mindedness to any figure that we might call a character. Stevens clarifies that at stake is an idea of action: how a film expresses a character’s orientation toward and effect upon objects, and how audiences construe that relation. He contends that Nichols creates a mode of character rooted in doubt about actions, doubt that is politically savvy and which, by accommodating quotidian anxiety about knowing other minds, offers a new register of realism.

Themes and methods from Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell are central throughout the book, from thinking about the nature of improvisational utterances to linguistic self-presentation. For example, by asking when, or whether, The Graduate’s taciturn hero means his silences, Stevens shows that the film exhibits an interest in rethinking the nature, force, and relationality of utterances. In doing so, he illuminates its appeal to an aesthetic context fascinated by silence, and to a political context of youth galvanized by the Free Speech Movement and Vietnam. The Graduate thus becomes a means of asking what it means to speak representatively. And what, in that context, does it mean to remain silent, to choose to speak only for oneself? Hence, readers will learn not only about an important filmmaker and his influence on the last five decades of Hollywood, but about film’s participation in a US history of ideas and, more broadly, the relation of film and philosophy.

You can find out more about the book by accessing its page on the Oxford University Press website. We had previously posted on Kyle Stevens’s work some time back here.

Call for Papers: Issue 4 of Conversations: The Journal of Cavellian Studies

Amir Khan, the managing editor (together with Sérgio Dias Branco) of Conversations: The Journal of Cavellian Studies has shared with us this Call for Papers for the journal’s fourth issue. Please see it below:

Call For Paper NO. 4: Literary Cavell

In what sense is Cavell’s work indebted to literature, or literary precursors? While much is made of his writings on Shakespeare, Cavell has other literary interests manifested in writings on the Romantic poets (In Quest for the Ordinary, particularly his reading of Kant and Coleridge), 19th/20th century playwrights (Ibsen, Shaw, Beckett), and a sparse scattering of prose on a select cadre of novelists (Austen, Dickens, James, for example). For the fourth issue of Conversations, we seek submissions that engage with Cavell’s literary influences and influence, and pose the question of whether Cavell is reading literature philosophically or whether he is reading philosophy like literature, or whether, indeed, it is profitable to pose such questions at all. Where do Emerson and Thoreau fit into this discussion? Possible topics include:

– Philosophical versus literary romanticism

– Cavell and Austen and Austin

– Ordinary language and the theatre

– Wittgenstein as literature

– Philosophy and close reading

– Freudian close reading

– Literary transcendentalism

– Style and literary expression

– Cavellian Shakespeare

We also welcome shorter essays and responses that directly address Cavell’s concluding question to The Claim of Reason.

Papers should be approximately 6000 words, including footnotes, and must follow the notes and bibliography citation system described in The Chicago Manual of Style. Shorter, more intimate pieces of around 1200 words are also acceptable. Please email complete articles to Amir Khan at akhan134 at If submitting via the online user interface, please notify one of the managing editors in a separate email. All submissions due September 15th, 2015.

Panel on Vincent Descombes: Harvard University, April 16


Professor Richard Moran (Harvard Philosophy Department) is organizing a panel at Harvard on the recent English translation of the book The Institutions of Meaning by the French philosopher Vincent Descombes. (An earlier post about this translation appeared here.) The panel will take place on Thursday April 16 from 1-4 PM at the Center for European Studies Lower Level Conference Room. The panelists include:

Vincent Descombes (L’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociale, Paris)

Richard Moran (Philosophy, Harvard University)

Frederick Neuhouser (Philosophy, Barnard College/Columbia University)

Webb Keane (Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)

Charles Larmore (Philosophy, Brown University)

The event will take place with the support of the Harvard Provostial Funds for the Humanities and the Harvard Department of Philosophy.

Vincent Descombes is also the author of, among his books translated into English, The Mind’s Provisions (Princeton, 2001), Modern French Philosophy (Cambridge, 1980), and Proust: Philosophy of the Novel (Stanford, 1992).

Romantic Circles: Stanley Cavell and the Event of Romanticism

A new volume has appeared of Romantic Circles, “a refereed scholarly website devoted to the study of Romantic-period literature and culture.” This volume is edited by Eric Lindstrom (English, University of Vermont) and is titled “Stanley Cavell and the Event of Romanticism.” To access the volume, click here. Here is an excerpt from the section About this Volume:

At a climactic point in Part Four of The Claim of Reason (1979), the American philosopher Stanley Cavell arrives at the striking conclusion that “romanticism opens with the discovery of the problem of other minds, or with the discovery that the other is a problem, an opening of philosophy.” Cavell’s account of how Romanticism opens is not historical in orientation, but rather offers a rich conceptual, aesthetic, and ethical site of concern that both interrupts and generates his life’s work— thus presenting an opening for scholars and students of the Romantic Period to think the subject of Romanticism anew in studying (with) Cavell. The essays in this volume seek to provide the fullest account to date of Cavell’s prompting by Romanticism in light of his powerful record of engagement with British and European Romantic texts: a body of literature on which Cavell has performed several bravura readings. Cavell’s writings and distinctive philosophical approach have garnered an increasing amount of sustained attention over the past several years, particularly since the publication of Philosophy the Day after Tomorrow (2005) and Little Did I Know (2010). Yet beyond his major American subjects of Thoreau and Emerson, there is still little published scholarship that engages Cavell’s thought at extended, close range with Romanticism as the moment that matters so much him: the “perfectionist” opening that comes after religion, but before philosophy. The present collection—with essays (in suggested reading order) by Emily Sun, Paul Fry, Eric Lindstrom, Eric Walker, and Anne-Lise François, and a substantial Afterword by Joshua Wilner—hinges between the efforts to record Cavell’s engagement with British Romantic texts and to stage new interventions.

The table of contents is as follows:

Issue #2 of Conversations: The Journal of Cavellian Studies

Amir Khan, managing editor (together with Sérgio Dias Branco) of Conversations: The Journal of Cavellian Studies, has just informed us that the journal’s second issue is now online. You can view or download the full issue here. According to the journal’s announcement:

This special issue showcases Cavell’s appeal “down under,” all papers appearing under the auspices of guest editor, Professor David Macarthur, c/o the Philosophy Department at the University of Sydney.

Indeed, the papers in this issue were given at a conference titled “Themes from Cavell” at the University of Sydney on Feb. 27-28, 2012.

For an announcement of the call for papers for the journal’s third issue, click here.


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.