Events

“Understanding from Inside,” or Critique and Admiration: Reading after Wittgenstein and Cavell

The Lionel Trilling Seminar

Lionel Trilling (1905-75), one of Columbia's most celebrated faculty members, was among the great humanist scholars and public intellectuals of the 20th century. In his memory, the Heyman Center sponsors a series of intellectual conversations, known as the Lionel Trilling Seminars. Toril Moi, James B. Duke Professor of Literature and Romance Studies and Professor of English, Philosophy, and Theater Studies at Duke University, gives the spring 2014 Lionel Trilling Lecture.

"Ordinary language philosophy, which I define as the philosophical tradition after Ludwig Wittgenstein and J. L. Austin as established and extended by Stanley Cavell, proposes a powerful method for undoing illusions and exposing incoherent thinking. Yet this is not 'critique' in the usual sense of the term in literary studies, for the same method also allows us to develop intellectually powerful accounts of our admiration for a text, a film, or a work of art.

I shall show that ordinary language philosophy develops a method of reading which undoes the traditional opposition between 'suspicious' (or 'symptomatic') and 'sympathetic' reading. For this method does not begin in suspicion, but in an attempt to see the question from the other person’s point of view, in an effort to grasp as accurately as possible precisely why the other critic, or the writer, says what she says. The most telling critique will always emerge from the best understanding of how it is that the other can say what she says.

At the same time, this method of reading also puts us in a position to explain, powerfully and with intellectual rigor, why a literary text, a film, or a work of art does what it does, and why a work deserves our admiration. In this way, ordinary language philosophy puts us in a position to explain why we care about literature and other arts, and why their insights matter."

--Toril Moi, James B. Duke Professor of Literature and Romance Studies and Professor of English, Philosophy, and Theater Studies at Duke University

Participants
  • Toril Moi James B. Duke Professor of Literature and Romance Studies, Professor of English, Philosophy, and Theater Studies Duke University
  • Heather Love R. Jean Brownlee Term Associate Professor of English University of Pennsylvania
  • Bernard Rhie Associate Professor of English Williams College