Stanley Cavell

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Stanley Cavell is the only major American philosopher who has made the subject of film a central part of his work. Film has figured centrally in four of his books and in numerous essays and occasional pieces. He has also reflected, philosophically, on other artistic media, such as theater, television, and opera, which bear an intimate relationship to film. To many philosophers, however, the relation of Cavell’s writings on film to his explicitly philosophical writings remains perplexing. And within the field of film study, the potential usefulness of Cavell’s writings - the potential usefulness of philosophy as he understands and practices it - remains generally unrecognized. Cavell’s philosophical perspective diverges in virtually every respect from the succession of theoretical positions that have gained most prominence in the field. Within academic film study, for example, it remains an all but unquestioned doctrine that “classical” movies systematically subordinate women, and, more generally, that movies are pernicious ideological representations to be decoded and resisted, not treated as works of art capable of instructing us as to how to view them. Film students are generally taught that in order to learn to think seriously about film, they must break their attachments to the films they love. Cavell’s writings on film, by contrast, bespeak a sense of gratitude for the existence of the great and still-enigmatic art of film, whose history is punctuated as that of no other, by works, small and large, that have commanded the devotion of audiences of all classes, of virtually all ages, and of all spaces around the world in which a projector has been mounted and a screen set up. (Cavell 2005: 281) It remains another largely unquestioned doctrine of academic film study that the stars projected on the movie screen are “personas,” discursive ideological constructs, not real people; that the world projected on the screen is itself an ideological construct, not real; and, indeed, that the so-called real world is such a construct, too. By providing convincing alternatives to such skeptical positions, Cavell’s writings on film are capable of helping academic film study free itself to explore regions that have remained closed to it - capable of inspiring the field to think in exciting new ways about film and its history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781135982751
ISBN (Print)9780415771665
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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