Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Bruce J. Krajewski reviews Here and There

Stanley CavellHere and There: Sites of Philosophy, ed. Nancy Bauer, Alice Crary, and Sandra Laugier. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2022. 336 pp.

Review by Bruce J. Krajewski

2 March 2022

The philosopher doth protest too much, methinks. In this book in which Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Martin Heidegger play expectedly extensive roles, Stanley Cavell tells readers, “What I do has sometimes been denied the title of philosophy, or deplored under that title” (p. 207). This description of oppression comes from the person who studied at The University of California-Berkeley, The Juilliard School, and Harvard University—then taught at Berkeley before being offered a tenured post at Harvard, before receiving invitations to speak at Duke University, Stanford University, and Hebrew University, before being named a MacArthur Fellow, before being elected President of the American Philosophical Association, and before being chosen as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters—and whose writings had the publicity machine of Harvard University Press behind him. When Cavell died at 91 in 2018, Lindsay Waters, executive editor of humanities at the press, claimed there were “those [unspecified] who strove to deny he existed, a host of pygmies in cinema studies and philosophy,” lowlifes who failed to appreciate, as Waters does, Cavell’s “star” status.[1]

Waters fails to mention Cavell’s numerous students who have championed Cavell’s work for decades, including the ones who edited Here and There. Nor do we get an account of exactly how the “pygmies” damaged the “star.” Did anyone, for instance, threaten Cavell’s tenured position as they did Nikole Hannah-Jones’s? The rub seems to be that the applause for Cavell never achieved Kantian universality. For example, how dare Tania Modleski object to Cavell’s mansplaining feminist film criticism?[2] Is Richard Strier a “pygmy” for his conclusion after poring over Cavell’s Shakespeare commentaries: “Cavell does not in fact do ‘ordinary language’ literary criticism”?[3]

In Here and There, Cavell admonishes his critics for finding his work “self-indulgent,” though he confesses that he took encouragement from Wittgenstein “to consult and register my own experience,” including “use of myself as the source of evidence” for philosophical propositions (pp. 117, 98, 102). Cavell admires this move in others, such as Veena Das’s “appeal to her own experience” (p. 185).

In twenty-five pieces, an epilogue, and an appendix, only six bits are “previously unpublished or previously unpublished in English,” with an unpublished essay on William Faulkner’s Light in August, arguably the book’s best value (p. 13). Readers and fans, like me, who have followed Cavell’s work, will find the other previously unpublished items the equivalent of Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone’s vault. It’s not as if this collection offers Cavell performing an Annales school autopsy on Heidegger.[4] Instead, it tosses out lines as glib as the one about Nietzsche bridging the gap between Emerson and Heidegger (see p. 82). Still, some readers might perk up at Cavell’s comment regarding “Heidegger’s creepy casualness about our relation to the atom bomb,” the closest thing in the collection to a critical political thought about Heidegger (p. 57). Charles Bernstein once pressed Cavell about Heidegger and politics. The result wasn’t pretty.[5]


[1] Lindsay Waters, “Stanley Cavell, Philosopher Untamed,” Harvard University Press, 16 July 2018,

[2] See Tania Modleski, Feminism Without Women: Culture and Criticism in a “Postfeminist” Age (New York, 1991).

[3] Richard Strier, “The Judgment of the Critics that Makes us Tremble: ‘Distributing Complicities’ in Recent Criticism of King Lear,” in Shakespeare and Judgment, ed. Kevin Curran (Edinburgh, 2017), p. 228.

[4] Cavell has expressed admiration for the Annales school; see Stanley Cavell, Themes out of School: Effects and Causes (Chicago, 1984).

[5] See Bruce J. Krajewski, “Little Did He Know: Cavell Absorbed by Nietzschean Esotericism,” Conversations: The Journal of Cavellian Studies 4 (Jan. 2016): 61–72.