SARI NUSSEIBEH: If you do not already believe in the multiverse, or multiworld [INAUDIBLE], then it's perhaps time and an opportunity for you to consider doing so. It is not too often that you are likely to come across a better exemplar for such a reality than in the person or persons of Hent De Vries, a Russ Family professor of humanities and philosophy, and director of the Johns Hopkins Center at Johns Hopkins. And the maestro of our shared and exceptional intellectual existence in these past few weeks.
The sheer multiplicity of the world he inhabits-- articles, chapters, books, reviews, edited volumes, lectures, interviews, functions, and toasts, lend us [INAUDIBLE] and forces into significance the-- at one and the same time-- conditioning component of the law of excluded mythology of [INAUDIBLE]
Did this uncanny skill to travel worlds have its origin in the hybrid work of Protestantism, Catholicism, democratic socialism, and Marxism, Hebrew [INAUDIBLE], or wit? This is what he relates in a special interview he gave some years ago.
He says, "I studied religion and theology. Therefore, but for the mindset and attitude that was engaged, and somewhat disengaged at the same time. This ambivalent relation to religion had, no doubt, its background in my upbringing, as indicated earlier, notably in my parents' self-chosen exile from their religious communities and the repercussion this has to how they portrayed the dark and bright and, indeed, more neglected side of their tradition to me."
SPEAKER 2: Excuse me, professor. [INAUDIBLE]
SARI NUSSEIBEH: I think that has to do with this, not this. Here, it's really the best interview.
SPEAKER 2: I will ask the microphone then.
SARI NUSSEIBEH: Please, ask the microphone. I think there's a soul in this. Also-- this being engaged and disengaged-- "also, the fact that growing up, I felt a Protestant in a large and Catholic community and understanding and appreciating that tradition only much later, and increasingly so. Yet, also beyond the biographical and anecdotal, the problem how one could be in on the phenomenon while staying out of it, as well, soon became not just an existential and political concern, but also an exclusive intellectual question and challenge, one that I may have not solved, but lived up to until this day."
Well, maybe [INAUDIBLE]. "This much seems to me certain-- my current inclination to adopt a quasi-Spinozist and Wittgensteinian dual aspect of reality"-- the expression he borrows, he says, from Stuart Hampshire, or at least a double vision in our way of receiving and evaluating that reality is only held much closer to a plausible answer to this predicament and a genuine chance of situating oneself at once inside and outside tradition than any of the reductionist, naturalist, or confessional approaches that I have come across in the literature and publicly based so far."
A double vision, as expressed here, is not then [INAUDIBLE] double speech theory, but that of the gaze of a sea of philosophical guards, standing at the nethermost border of experience here and now, at once grasping the lived event on one side, but the tradition inspired by the miraculous on the other. And yet, De Vries tells us, who knows whether there are not more aspects of reality than just two. Infinite attitudes or directions, of which we-- finite theoreticians-- know nothing yet."
As professor De Vries recounts his journey through religion, econometrics, metaphysics, philosophy, through-- among countless others-- St. Paul, St. Augustine, Kant, Kafka, Adorno, [INAUDIBLE] Derrida, [INAUDIBLE] Marion, Berlin-- but a few. Or through his practical terms as co-founder of the Amsterdam School for Culture Analysis or as chair of the Future of Religious Past Program, sponsored by the Netherlands Foundation for Scientific Research. Or as official advisor to the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy and a member of its Project Group on Religion in the Public Domain.
We come to appreciate more and more, how the curved scholarly, and practical spaces, and all which he served, searching for a Rosetta Stone, a useful interpretive key [INAUDIBLE] with which to decipher or understand the structure and impact of even the most ordinary, banal, and [INAUDIBLE] effects brought him closer and closer to developing what he calls the deep pragmatism which he has posited. A multidisciplinary approach that at once draws on the metaphysical and the literary, as on the empirical and scientific to help us recognize the event for the miracle it is. The escaped present, so to speak, for its impregnated past and pending future.
Dissatisfied with Charles Taylor's optionality, [INAUDIBLE] of A Secular Age, but undistracted, nonetheless, by the failed polemic, as he calls it, of much of philosophy's contemporary turn. Professor De Vries is exploring through forest in search of that interpretive key in the literatures-- scholastics and modern-- and in the political, is marked as much by saying as by listening by what he himself expresses in his numerous writings and studies, as much as by what others say in the groundbreaking volumes he added. Such is that of Political Theologies, Public Religion in a Post-Secular World, 2006.
Nor does he tire of rooting for science of that hermeneutic key, as he interrogates Lefort, Cavell, and others, eliciting from the writings those elements that confirm the justification for his quest. But gently reaffirming that quest's [INAUDIBLE] and perhaps, temporally warped curvature. I'm using expressions I wouldn't normally use, but what I pick up from him.
It is not that he is suddenly taken in, as many others may have been, by the unexpected and sudden challenging emergence of a religious from the closets of the private domain, forcing secular politics and philosophies, as well as democratic governments, to face a ghost, as if from the dead past. It is more that he seizes the opportunity presented to re-emphasize the harmonific procedure, his trials to articulate as meticulously as he can.
Joined on as much scholarship as there is, and on the pressing demand of the day as on such seminal events in Western history as the French Revolution, a procedure-- a way of seeing, of interpreting, of understanding-- that cannot but compel us even against [? our seasoned ?] recent judgments to think anew of what we think we know.
The scholarly works and books and articles of Professor De Vries, starting with minimal theologists, going right up to in print and contracted volumes, promising even more insights into the variety of aspects, in which his interpretive system is taking shape, are too innumerable to recite in these introductory remarks. Suffice it to say that whether it is ontology or epistemology, whether it's love or the media, Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, politics or the political, and whether in Dutch, French, German, English, or Japanese, [INAUDIBLE], Hebrew or Arabic-- in all of these and more, reading De Vries is an enlightened and performative education in Western thought. Indeed, so enlightened and provocative, that what I would like to encourage you to-- despite all the work he has already set himself-- is to spread his intellectual mantle, so to speak, beyond the Abrahamic world.
But not before the promised banquet on Thursday. To look for signs of that same curvature in those findings consistent of fault as he sees them in the Western-- where a lot of the miraculous and the transcendent is as inextricably imminent in the down-to-earth political as it is in the Transatlantic world, to use a dated expression. And this, notwithstanding the objection or verification of totalities by some of the Indian authors he mentions.
Now, in ending these brief remarks, I want to say it has been customary, in this kind of situation, to invoke such expressions as, it is a distinct honor or it is a real privilege in introducing this speaker. In addition, of course, to mentioning pleasure. Without discounting the latter, but searching for an apt expression for this particular occasion, I couldn't but find myself compelled to choose to say this. That is, therefore, with a deep sense of awe and respect that I introduce to you Professor Hent De Vries.
HENT DE VRIES: Thank you, Sari. Thank you, Sari, for these very generous words and thank you all for being present at this lecture in what I fully realize is the last week of a demanding summer session, of which I, for one, has greatly profited through conversations, attending lectures like these, and reading many of your works. But let me, for reasons of time, begin without much further ado.
In the following, I would like to bring-- am I audible? Good. I would like to bring out what I take to be the more than surprising-- indeed, extraordinary gist of the philosophical and perhaps, more broadly, theoretical and critical turn to the ordinary. I will further ask how this turn relates to that of the everyday, as the two terms are, it seems, far from synonymous, even though they are inextricably bound up with each other.
What I would like to propose is that there is every reason to replace the all-too-common, all-too-certain-- one is tempted to say all-too-quotidien, down to earth, at times, even banal, profane, and mundane-- understanding of the ordinary and the everyday with a far more vulnerable reference to what, with equal right, could be called the extraordinary. At the very least, I will try to demonstrate that the extraordinariness of the ordinary holds equal sway over the phenomenon and experience of the everyday, to be defined as its presupposed, presumed counterpart, which is the ordinariness of the extraordinary.
More specifically, I will be claiming that the everyday-- to the extent that it engenders, if not encapsulates, or otherwise, captures the ordinary-- perhaps, also partakes in it-- is that which needs our affirmation. And does so every day, time and again, at each single instant in every instance.
In other words, far from being an unquestioned, mythical, or phenomenological given, the everyday and its corollary-- its reality or shadow-- namely, the ordinary are both in search of-- and indeed, our search of-- what matters each step of the way. Or put differently, what the ordinary means and why and how it is relevant or of importance is a question of every-- as in each single day. That is of the everyday taken here, not so much as one undefined realm, or even unit of time, but as that which, as it were, punctuates and all too often, every so often, or often, not often enough, punctures our personal and private, public, as well as political lives.
And yet, nothing short of a certain what I would like to call deeply spiritual, but also deeply pragmatic, discipline reiterated each step along the way, maybe of need, to sort this all out. By helping us to make sense where, sensu stricto, there seems to be none. At least, none that would impose itself unquestionably with firm criteria of our discernment, clearly established and in our hand.
I am drawing my inspiration here from an author, the historian and philosopher Pierre Hadot, whose basic ideas I presented here last year at this very same lecture. Hadot repeatedly cites the following lapidary sentence found towards the end of a remarkable, but alas, so far untranslated book by a somewhat forgotten thinker, namely George Friedmann's book, La Sagesse et La Puissance-- Power and Wisdom.
And he does that in the writings that I briefly will put up here that you have ample opportunity to read some other time if you did not already. Here's Friedmann and there's the book and the quote. [SPEAKING FRENCH] "Every day, a spiritual exercise, alone or with others. Or more extensively, to take flight every day at least for a moment, however brief, as long as it is intense.
Every day, a spiritual exercise, alone or in the company of someone who also wishes to better him or herself. Spiritual exercises leave ordinary time or temporal duration-- [SPEAKING FRENCH]-- behind, to force oneself to rid oneself of one's own passions, vanities-- become eternal by surpassing yourself.
This inner effort is necessary, indeed, just. Many are those who are entirely in militant politics. In the preparation for the social revolution. Rare-- very rare-- are those who, in order to prepare for the revolution, wish to become worthy of it." End of quote.
To characterize philosophy in Hadot's terms, then, is to conceive of it as a spiritual exercise. Put otherwise, as a way of life. And to do so is not so much to propound a thesis or hypothesis, but rather, to invite and to exemplify and-- in this sense only-- to demonstrate the practice of a peculiar seeing of things and beings under an unfamiliar aspect. An aspect that is strange, the flip side of things and beings alike.
What is exercised in this practice is-- it has been alluded to-- a dual vision on the words and objects, ideas and concepts, selves and others, peoples and worlds. Put differently, it is the very attempt to view all that is and all that is not from the perspective of what could have been or still might be. That is to say, to see the ordinary in light of the extraordinary, out of the ordinary, and importantly, vice versa.
Moreover, it means to do so-- for Hadot, at the very least-- in the very present at the instant or instances of our contemporary life, which must now be seen and lived as divided in at least two different dimensions or-- as we will see-- myths or perspectives whose dual aspects-- one and the same reality-- can reveal to us, or rather that we must reveal to it.
In order to exemplify and clarify such thought practice, spiritual exercise, and everything that comes with it, I propose to revisit its underlying concepts. And as it will turn out, somewhat fleeting guiding ideas that, if I'm not mistaken, has been taken somewhat for granted, at least in Anglo-American post-analytic thought. And to say so, admittedly, I make a somewhat polemical claim to which I will not attach proper names and scholarly titles this afternoon, as there is no need for it within the limits of a talk. You will either see what I mean or you will have to take my word for it. And I'm somewhat fearful that that might be-- that line-- somewhat of a summary of what I will be arguing, which does not bode well. But that's how it is.
Now, as Stanley Cavell-- my second major witness and guide throughout, and an important source here-- has come to call it, the dimension of perspectival, existential, as well as political depth, and sometimes-- and faithfully and unavoidably-- mere metaphysical profundity to which the quest of and for the ordinary may well lead and expose us is that of the extraordinary, which comes in at least two extreme articulations. I have mentioned them before.
The extraordinariness of the ordinary and the ordinariness of the extraordinary, as we saw. But also, according to Cavell, it comes to us as the sublime, on the one hand, and horror on the other, with much uncanniness, but also much averageness in between. And lest we forget, along this whole spectrum, in the notion and experience of the ordinary, the good and the bad everyday, like the better and the worse of, co-habitate, which already introduces a further dual perspective, aspect, or vision in these seemingly unambiguous, straightforward notions of the ordinary and the everyday.
We know, of course, that the turn to the ordinary-- as conceived by JL Austin and Lutwig Wittgenstin, and as read and re-read by Stanley Cavell, in that particular order, with the further help of Emerson and Thoreau, early and modern tragedy, as well as comedy and Hollywood cinema, is-- for all its invocation of the common and the low, or everyday-- hardly concerned with the banal or trivial. Let alone with the worldly or the profane or the secular.
We commonly think of the ordinary as that which is common. Or in the idiom of Emerson and Thoreau, the common. We identify it with the down to earth, in a non-pejorative sense of these words. Or again, in the language of the American transcendentalists and moral perfectionists, as the law. We also speak of the everyday as the ordinary, if not in the Wittgensteinian parlance of the Philosophical Investigations, then at least in that of JL Austin in his philosophical papers, Sense and Sensibilia and How To Do Things With Words.
And let me just, in a quick overview, show you the titles that I won't be citing explicitly all the time, but will be drawing on. Cavell's early book of essays, Must We Mean What We Say? His essays on Shakespeare-- in particular, Disowning Knowledge. Themes Out of School, which I have cited in this occasion several times. The Claim of Reason, his magnum opus. His first sketch of an autobiography, A Pitch of Philosophy.
And an important set of later essays, and actually some kind of self-revisions, if you like, Philosophy The Day After Tomorrow. And just to top this off, his magnificent autobiography, Little Did I Know, Excerpts from Memory. The other titles, I will show in a moment.
We may further feel justified in thinking that the quote "emphatic and recurrent attention," end of quote, that Cavell, in his own words, gives to the idea of the ordinary and the everyday is perhaps not so much excessive, as some of his readers have often hastily claimed, advocating a far more conventional or standardized view of these notions. But rather, one might say, well-tempered and indeed, one might even add somewhat toned down.
And I use these characterizations deliberately after all Cavell's overall oeuvre, from the early essays in Must We Mean What We Say, his magnum opus, The Claim of Reason, through his autobiographical exercises in A Pitch of Philosophy, all the way up to his philosophical testament-- if we can say so-- the excerpts from memory entitled, Little Did I Know, is constantly attuned to an understanding of the different modulations, the fragile harmonies, and the recurrent dissonances, of human finitude. Of the human voice, of its suppression, and the limited, if important, task that philosophy, the day after tomorrow, as he says, can still or yet again plausibly-- that is to say, for Cavell, seriously and sincerely claim for itself.
Yet I would suggest that revisiting Cavell's earlier engagement with the everyday as the ordinary and via him of Austin and Wittgenstein, as Cavell himself has recently done, also forces us to rethink this accepted view from the ground, or bottom up, as it were. And to restore, or perhaps more fully appreciate, an undeniable sense of excess in this strangely uplifting, as well as unsettling idea that is the idea of the ordinary and the everyday-- of their vulnerability, which is Cavell's word, and their incongruence, a term that I borrow from Michael Friedmann.
Doing so will lead me to a reconsideration not just of the better known descent into the ordinary that some have seen as American moral perfectionisms and British ordinary language philosophy's ultimate program, but inversely, complementary, and perhaps, even first of all, our ascent into it-- our ascent into the ordinary and into the everyday. There is, I suggest, a remarkably pedagogical, even anagogical that is uplifting, transcending, mystical, or spiritual path that is forged here. And onto which we, as readers and hearers, are invited to follow our own unique course.
As Hilary Putnam pointedly reminds us in one of his characterizations of his colleague's and friend's philosophical project-- Cavell's, that is-- in his reassessment of epistemological skepticism regarding the external world, first of all, but also regarding other minds more indirectly and more reservedly, it is important to keep in mind what the ordinary, for Cavell, means exactly. And here's Putnam. Ordinary does not mean going to the post office and mailing a letter, although if I allowed a small parenthesis here.
Come to think of it, this is a difficult enough operation. Witness Jacques Derrida's meditations in quasi fictive love letters on the nature of speech acts, and Austin's work in particular, in his book-- according to some, his least accomplished, but I think, in many ways, one of his most suggestive books, entitled La Carte Postale-- The Postcard.
Anyway, "ordinary does not mean going to the post office and mailing a letter," Putnam writes. "It means faith that the way we think and live isn't all a fiction or an illusion. That the illusion is, rather, all these tremendous intellectual constructions that make the way we think and live both look like an illusion. This is what Wittgenstein was trying to make room for. Just as Marx turned Hegel upside down, today Wittgenstein would think that the philosophers and the literary theorists have the world upside down," end of quote.
Wittgenstein, Putnam suggests here, was not a quote, unquote "minor Austin." That is, someone with a theory of language or a theory of language games. And the stakes of his writing-- both early and late-- clearly lie elsewhere. And in the same context, Putnam notes that this insight already should reveal a different interpretation of Wittgenstein time than the prevailing one, whether the standard one or the one advocated by the so-called new Wittgenstein advocates. This difference, for our purpose, mattering very little.
Here's what Putnam writes. "There are at least two ways of reading Wittgenstein. The first is that one can read Wittgenstein as simply a voice of despair. A voice saying that philosophy is over.
The second way is much more tentative and much more difficult, but I feel it's what I would like to do and that it is what, I think, Stanley Cavell is doing. That is to say that Wittgenstein wants to disabuse us of something which has been called philosophy in order to make room for something else, something that is hard to characterize, end of quote.
For Putnam, this something else would be a quote, unquote, "third modality" between science and art or religion. Something akin to the later Martin Heidegger's insistence on thought-- [SPEAKING GERMAN]. Something also like ethics, or indeed, something encapsulated by the term the ordinary. A notion, by the way, that Putnam does not take as a synonym of the everyday. As quote, "everyday has a bad connotation," he writes, "and ordinary has a good connotation," end of quote.
Putnam would, here, seem to be in agreement with others, like Michael Fried-- in his book, Menzel's Realism, Art and Embodiment in 19th Century Berlin and in his book, Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before-- who argues that the good everyday, as theorized by Wittgenstein and by Austin and Cavell when they speak of the ordinary, counts as a realm of possible meaning and even redemption, whereas the bad everyday, as theorized notably by Martin Heidegger in Being and Time, stands for a quote, "routinized realm of inauthenticity, alienation, and boredom."
These are the words that I borrow in their summary fashion from yet another Cavellian thinker, Toril Moi, who in her book on Henrik Ibsen and the birth of modernism, following Michael Fried, likewise argues that, quote, "both perspectives on the everyday, as the good and the bad, are intrinsic to modernity and to modernism," end of quote.
Yet what could making room, or turning upside down what had presumably been turned upside down already, mean? What would it mean to put the world back on its feet, as Mark presumably did? What, if anything, would be the alternative for a fiction and an illusion, as Putnam writes?
Or rather, what faith requires that we do not think or live all as either fiction or illusion? In sum, what would stand opposed to the banality and triviality, as well as to their counterpart, the overly theoretical obsession with fiction and illusion? Surely, with all the skeptical recitals in ancient and modern philosophy, placing the world and other minds in it firmly in doubt, it can hardly be an epistemically warranted belief that gives us confidence or basic trust in this world and all beings and things in it.
For one thing, I think it would mean to see and seek, know or acknowledge, what, first of all, matters. That is to say, in the Cavellian idiom, what is of relevance and what of importance? But might there not be more to it?
What more does the ordinary and its corollary-- the everyday-- good or bad-- mean or need? To answer these questions, we must, I think, first analyze the ordinary and everyday in light of their functional contrast with some other language or use of language where, as we will soon verify, the polar opposite is rarely available. As Cavell, here with reference to JL Austin-- The Philosophical Papers, the lecture notes on Sense and Sensibilia, and of course, the great classic, How To Do Things With Words, now I think much more in the focus and attention of scholars with these recent studies and conferences on Austin's work.
"What Austin," according to Cavell, "meant by ordinary," he adds, "cannot be easy to say. Consider that it has no standing or obvious contrast. Ordinary as opposed to what-- if not to scientific or religious or ethical or literary? In my reading of Austin's," Cavell says, "the contrast is with the philosophical-- what Wittgenstein calls the metaphysical," end of quote.
But what contrasts with the philosophical or the metaphysical? Moreover, what does Cavell mean exactly when he writes that throughout his work, he has sought--
OK. This is not the quote I wanted. Sorry about that. That happens. --"to articulate the sources of philosophical creativeness in the philosophical destructiveness in the writings-- for all their differences-- of JL Austin and of the later Ludwig Wittgenstein, especially in their peculiar invocation of what they call the ordinary in language and in deed."
As Cavell explains in The Claim of Reason, he understands the ordinary language philosophy "not"-- let me see if I have that here-- "as an effort to reinstate vulgar beliefs or common sense to a pre-scientific notion of eminence, but to reclaim the human self from its denial and neglect by modern philosophy. That-- and why and how-- this denial has taken place raises problems. My hopes are to suggest an answer in the arena of traditional philosophical skepticism, and to suggest that the Wittgensteinian view of language-- together with the Austinian practice of it and of philosophy-- is an assault upon that denial," end of quote.
Cavell cites Wittgenstein's overall motto, by which I mean the famous words, from which-- although they appear only in paragraph 116 of the Philosophical Investigations-- the whole work seems to take its inspiration, its spiritual direction, as it were. Namely, that what we must do is lead words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.
Here's Wittgenstein in the Philosophical Investigations. "When the philosophers use a word-- knowledge, being, object, eye, proposition, name-- and try to grasp the essence of the thing, one must always ask oneself, is the word ever actually used in this way in the language game, which is its original home-- its Heimat? What we do"-- this would be the Wittgensteinian voice-- "is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use," end of quote.
Much could be said here about the terminology of essence, but I will concentrate here on the fact, as Cavell notes in his autobiographical exercise, that Wittgenstein, more than any other thinker, has fully worked out-- and this is Cavell- a theory of how language becomes metaphysical, as he does of how language becomes ordinary. That is, of what is acquired in acquiring a language.
In learning a language, Cavell explains in The Claim of Reason-- notably in the "Excursus on Wittgenstein's Vision of of Language-- we acquire not only a mother tongue but also a father tongue, as we do in, say, writing or reading poetry. Just as we learn far more than we know or care to be told, which all by itself can be fateful and tragic, but remains an integral part of our human condition, of our finitude, as well as our unwillingness to fully accept that fact and to give up on craving or temptation-- two important terms in this context.
But in Cavell's sense, on my reading, there is a further etch, as Shakespeare's Hamlet would have it. Leading words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use is to bring them back and down from their at once isolated and perhaps all too elevated and deep-seated use to a current currency that, strangely enough, is very hard to determine. After all, the gesture implies-- paradoxically-- that words that are brought back and down to their ordinary, if not necessarily original, meaning, ascend, as well as they descend to a new higher and deeper level of perspicuity and intensity, seriousness and sincerity. And are given not just their signification, but their signifyingness-- their relevance or importance. A Cavellian term that, in particular, Sandra Laugier has given great effort to highlight and clarify, very helpfully.
In other words, homecoming words acquire, paradoxically, a dimension of height and of depth that should not be confused with the false and vain elevations and profundities of [? alt ?] that is all those fictions, illusions-- or as Wittgenstein says-- pictures and idols for which, surely, not only metaphysics deserves all blame, but which are inextricably bound up with human nature. With both the horizontal and vertical dimensions of our natural history, of our onto- and phylogenesis-- of our creatureliness, if you like.
There's nothing obvious or simple about the idea, then, for which these notions-- the ordinary, the everyday, good and bad-- stand here. Let alone about what a turn or return to the ordinary, supposedly called for by ordinary language philosophy, might actually consist in for Austin and somewhat differently, Cavell alerts us, for Wittgenstein.
All we are given is that the nuance of Austin's and Wittgenstein's difference hinges on Cavell's observation that in particular, the letter writes-- there we are. All we are given is that the nuance of Austin's and Wittgenstein's difference hinges on Cavell's observation that the letter's saying that "what we do is to bring-- literally, to lead-- words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use could almost be said of Austin's practice. Except that Austin had no announced conception of, and no patience with, the metaphysical, in this or any other guise. Hence, no interest in tracing the philosophical or say the human craving, for the metaphysical," end of quote.
Invoking the affinities between Wittgenstein's view of this craving and Emanuel Kant's, or ultimately Arthur Schopenhauer's sense of the essential and implaceable restlessness of the human-- of its distinguished faculty of reason as precisely the faculty that tantalizes itself-- Cavell then goes on to note that it is nothing but this intrinsic-- Kant, perhaps, would say transcendental-- illusion which produces denial and presumed transcendence of the ordinary in the form and direction of metaphysics and of skepticism. And it is against this foil and, based upon nothing else, that Wittgenstein's indirect, if suggestive, characterization of the everyday as the very home, or heimat, of our words and deeds, receives its most distinctive profile. Its proper character, namely, emerges not so much as the rock bottom of human nature and language against which our spades are turned no matter how much we are digging, but rather, as that of a virtual contrast, emerging almost ex nihilo and ex negativo, as that from which it is. That metaphysical craving may have been moving away and must be led back.
The ordinary and the everyday, then, are not so much a field of dark matter and dark energy that eventually will pull us back in, causing our disappearance as human beings and of human nature along the way, should this be thinkable. Rather, their idea, dimension, and appeal is that of merely a retroactive construct and, quite literally, an afterthought, so to speak, that we may or may not succeed inhabiting exemplarily. The ordinary and the everyday reveal themselves with a near imperceptible temporal delay or belatedness of an effect without necessary, sufficient, or proportionate cause, and perhaps, with no fundamentum in re re.
The ordinary and the everyday are not a given. They are not so much facts or states of affair, but wherever and whenever they come about, nothing short of pure events, whose real, or realization, is ours and only ours to make, to make up, and make up with-- correcting an earlier artificiality of our words and deeds with another more serious, more sincere one. That, if nothing else, gives the ordinary-- the event of the ordinary-- it's very uncanniness to begin with.
Again, far from being the rock bottom on which our spades are turned and that we have, hence, no real reason to either further deny or demonstrate, the ordinary and the everyday are quote, unquote, "fictional places" that lure and lead us to imagine, if not situate, ourselves at a deeper, wider, and higher level of our existence. As Cavell notes, "Wittgenstein gives little direct development of the concept of the ordinary, everyday use of language. But without the concept, his greater development, or portraiture, of the metaphysical in language or of skepticism-- for Wittgenstein, the metaphysical twin of metaphysics-- could not be undertaken.
The ordinary occurs essentially in the philosophical investigations, as what skepticism denies, a metaphysic transcends. As it were, as a fictional place, produced in retrospect by philosophy's flight from everyday ungroundedness or prejudices or fixations," end of quote. It is crucial to note here that the ordinary arises in contrast with philosophies, that is skepticism and metaphysics' flight from two different contrasting experiences and interpretations of the everyday.
Namely, the essential contestability of all our criteria for thinking and action, which is precisely their ungroundedness. And of our tendency to gloss this over with prejudices or fixations-- call them pictures or dogmatic images. The ordinary, for Wittgenstein and Cavell-- the ordinary, for Wittgenstein, as Cavell reads him here has no existence, no origin, or home elsewhere, but can be glimpsed only in passing in the very flight from these two opposite poles or angles, like of ground and too much of grounding from which we tend to see ourselves and others, and the world around us, in part to our detriment. I say in part since it would also be hard, according to Wittgenstein and Cavell, to conceive of the human of our nature and the life of the mind without this craving or striving, without this flight from what is either absent or all too present. Ungroundedness and fixations.
Still, it remains an open question as to what turning or returning to the ordinary as, or qua, the everyday might mean. And to do so every day. What does a turn or return to the everyday signal, philosophically, therapeutically, as well as politically and aesthetically? To mention just four of the most important discourses, practices, forms-- indeed, ways of life-- that are relevant to Cavell's emphatic and recurrent analysis of the topic. Why, where, and when, and how to reverse ourselves, as Cavell, with Wittgenstein, demands?
The question is of importance since Cavell, in interpreting Wittgenstein's sense of home, or heimat, and his own contrasting notion of exile clearly insists that for the author of the Philosophical Investigations, no less than for himself, quote, "we have been already at the place we are trying to get to. Philosophy has no other." "We have already been at the place we're trying to get to. Philosophy has no other."
But this only make Cavell wonder, "if it is this easy to be exiled, what is, or was, our life in our supposed native land? And what would it mean to return to it?" End of quote.
One reason why it is so difficult to understand the turn or return, in terms of a simple, uni-directional, irreversible movement, is that the ordinary or everyday use of words that philosophy both tends to forget and, strangely, is able to remind us of, pre-supposes not so much in autochthonous site of origin, but precisely one of life and circulation.
If words, according to Wittgenstein's famous formulation, are led back as if, Cavell glosses, they were alive and had to be guided or enticed, one might be tempted to add, like captive or all too captivated souls, then this suggests, Cavell goes on to write, "the welcome idea of returning words to the circulation of language and its sometimes unpredictable projections rather than keeping them fixated in some imaginary surface." That was the final quote.
Paradoxically, then, to exile them-- words and deeds-- is precisely to make them sedimentary, which is to say caught up in prejudices or fixations. All the reifications and fetishisms-- ideologies and idolotries. In sum, all the pictures and dogmatic images of thought.
By contrast, to lead them home would mean to liberate them from the letter, to give them freedom to project themselves into unexpected-- perhaps, as of yet-- unimaginable, even impossible contexts. To ground them time and again in everyday ungroundedness and to do so every day. This nothing else would be to give them circulation. That is to say, to give them commerce and communicability, which should not be confused with some abstract metaphysical thesis or conceptive statement-- true or false-- about their transcendence, their principle non-coincidence with themselves.
If I'm not mistaken, this minimal nuance makes all the difference in the world and forms, perhaps, the very point where Cavell would take his difference from so-called theorists of language and literature that go unnamed in that context. "Some theorists," Cavell writes, "of language and literature, I believe, take Freud's idea of [SPEAKING GERMAN], or belatedness, to suggest that meaning is always, as such, deferred. Deferred, accordingly, forever.
But I take Shakespeare's practice"-- and again, the word practice is something that interests me in the context of spiritual exercise, as you can imagine. It doesn't say praxis, for one thing. "I take Shakespeare's practice-- call it the practice of comedy and of tragedy-- to show that even if you say that some meaning is always deferred, all meaning is not always deferred forever."
The explanation? "To say that total meaning is deferred forever is apt to say nothing, since nothing is apt to count as total meaning. That phrase is apt to mean nothing." And the punchline-- "It is no more characteristic of the change of significance to be theoretically open than it is, at each link, for them to close."
In sum, then, Cavell's reappraisal of Wittgenstein and Austin make very clear the everyday and the ordinary, together with all their conceptual and figural equivalents, are neither empirical-- say, mythical, phenomenological-- givens, nor the avoidable nonsense of merely retrospective, indeed, retroactive fictions, as the whole generation of logical positivists would have assumed, limiting serious consideration to that of statements or constatives true or false alone.
Nor, however, is invoking the ordinary as the everyday and vice versa-- the extraordinariness of the ordinary and the ordinariness of the extraordinary, as we saw-- a matter of merely producing formal or non-formal tautologies, per se. After all, while such wordings are not informative, strictly speaking, they do not, therefore, say nothing. Rather, one might say-- drawing on Pierre Hadot's work here-- they are formative. They are-- as Cavell himself notes-- transformative. Notions that seek to turn and lead us lost souls into what, and especially, who we are, or yet again, or still can and must be. The ordinary and the everyday highlight the things and beings that make up our world with ourselves and others in it, and do so in word and deed each step along the way. And hence, virtually each time anew.
Yet their meaning and significance, relevance and importance, it is our call to make in the present. That is to say, again, every day. Metaphysically and ontologically, no less than ontically speaking, the everyday conjures a reality, or realm, a notion and dimension whose existence and meaning has no fundamentum i in re. Without, therefore, being a merely empty reference, a [INAUDIBLE] focus, per se.
Hardly a common notion. A Spinoza, for example, would have required for it to have philosophical currency, the everyday is rather what Cavall says of Austin's ordinary, namely a myth-- a certain fiction. But then, in Austin and other authors-- notably Wittgenstein-- whose intuitions Cavell follows most attentively here, it must be seen and used as a counter myth, as well. These two qualifications of the ordinary and, by extension, the everyday as myth and counter-myth are to be found in the seminal essay, The Wittgensteinian Event, a central chapter from Cavell's later book, Philosophy the Day After Tomorrow, which also introduces the reference to the two ordinaries, from which I also have been taking my inspiration here.
And in the latter essay, in which Cavell revisits-- and I would say also revises-- some of his own earlier interpretations, we are allowed to draw a few preliminary conclusions. First of all, the characterization of the ordinary and the everyday, in terms of myth, counter-myth, and fiction-- a certain fiction-- all suggest a less or other than empirical, historical, or linguistic, but also less or other than ontological or transcendental reality, whose effects are nonetheless palpable, and hence not easy to either undo or bring about.
Not merely a modern preoccupation, the everyday and the ordinary could be seen as announced, Cavall suggests, in Plato's parable of the cave, to which he alludes here and elsewhere as a quote, "figure for the ordinary. The place where philosophy begins and to which, unlike the aspiration of much subsequent philosophy, it, so to speak, returns, accustoming its near blinded eyes to what could all too easily appear to be mere shades of gray."
Of course, Cavell leaves no doubt that this cannot mean that the every day, even as a fictional place, is the realm of [INAUDIBLE], of pure shadows-- a kingdom of shadows. In modern parlance, the idea of the everyday is merely conveyed by means of what Wittgenstein calls a symbolical expression, which is really a mythological description. A mythological description of what we are inclined to flee due to what Carvel, in his own words, diagnoses as our inability to move ourselves in accordance with our apparent desires, opting instead for an ice walk of abstractions and ideal orders. A wish, as he puts it, quote, "to inhabit a medium other than the one with human grounding that supports the human gait of walking. A grounding that we saw earlier that does not exclude ungroundedness or even the use of prejudices and fixations."
Wittgenstein's mythological description does contrast with a counter-myth of escape, of false perfection, which is characterized by Cavell, citing paragraph 38 of the Philosophical Investigations as quote, "a tendency to sublime the logic of our language." Cavell interprets it as the drive to speak outside of language, outside of language games. A desire to speak absolutely.
That is to say, beyond ungroundedness or without prejudices or fixations in denial, as it were, of our finitude, which is the life of the mind and the law of our body. And yet this denial makes up our very nature. The creature of finitude, as Cavell formulates it in more religious, theological idioms is quote, "burdened by-- can we say-- thoughts of the infinite. The restlessness of the finite creature is burdened by this desire of the infinite or, say, by infinite desires."
A second conclusion alluded already to earlier is that the opposition between the myth and its counter instance-- an instance which, although not the counter-myth of escape or evasion or so-called transcendence, is perhaps no less or, in any case, otherwise mythological, as well. A different mythology this time and a different serious idling or holiday of our language.
This duality signals a bipolarity rather than dichotomy of the world. In fact, of the very words and deeds that we inhabit and that bind us. Call it the dual aspect seeing of an actual world and an imagined, eventual world. Both of the notions and potential, not to mention the virtual realities that must be lifted out of the ordinary and this, indeed, again, every day.
Cavell recalls that these distinctions between the actual and the eventual govern discourse as different as that of Plato and Kant, Emerson, and Nietzsche, Heidegger and-- somewhat differently, he claims-- also Wittgenstein. Indeed, compared to these authors, two polar views of the human possibility or adoption exist-- namely, illusion and reality-- Plato-- the sensible world and the intelligible world-- Kant-- the arenas of conformity and of self-reliance-- Emerson, philistinism and self overcoming-- Nietzsche. And the world of the inauthentic transformed by the authentic-- Heidegger. Finally, Wittgenstein's promise of peace or rest after restlessness, which forms the somewhat special case.
After all, Wittgenstein, in his practice, attempts to deconstruct the postulated duality of these assumed polar realities even further than these authors, carefully read and often against the grain, already would seem to have done. The reason for that is as simple as it is mind boggling. For the promise of peace and that of rest is, as Cavell shows, something almost already lost as soon as it is found. Another promise that projects a realm of refuge.
In other words, for Wittgenstein, as Cavell reads him, there is no repose, no quiet, no in and for itself, no religious safe and sound, no private interiority that would characterize-- much less guarantee-- this particular state of peace. Neither a state nor a [INAUDIBLE]. Peace, in Wittgenstein's sense in these passages, is quite literally a disposition-- out of the ordinary. Or put differently, a way of seeing and setting things right that allows for no interim, no eschaton, no restitutio in integrum, no kingdom of ends. And yet, its actualization, or actuality, even-- or especially-- in the world of today could not be greater.
Let us not ponder too much in concluding whether such peace is always already lost, or whether it is almost lost as soon as or, say, just before or just after it is found. And hence, never quite found or kept in its fullness or intactness. What matters is that Cavell leaves no doubt that it is precisely of this paradoxical condition of offering peace or rest as something already lost almost as soon as it is found that Wittgenstein's philosophical stance of contradiction and dissatisfaction, in effect, assumes an independence from whatever this imperfect world turns out to be.
Before we identify this independence too quickly with the stoic indifference against indifferent things, of which the tradition of spiritual exercises in Hadot's rendering makes so much, it would be worthwhile to place it squarely within the context in which Cavell introduces it. And I will conclude with that. The counter-myth of escape and evasion should be distinguished from another instance of counter-myth invoked by Cavell, in what he recalls the momentary, uncharacteristic outburst in the essay by Austin entitled "Other Minds," in which he laments, quote, "The original sin by which the philosopher cast himself out of the garden of the world in which we live."
Let me try to find this quote. I may have jumped a few. OK. No. There it is. "The original sin by which the philosopher cast himself out from the garden of the world we live in."
As Cavell comments, "While this seems to capture something of Wittgensteins' sense of philosophy's drive to speak outside of language games-- and in effect, confesses Austin's-- even his-- sharing of romanticism's obsession with the myth of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, it issues in no serious wish on Austin's part to understand philosophies perpetual self-defeat, beyond accusing it of such qualities as laziness, drunkenness, wiliness, and morally suspicious claims to profundity. Philosophical Investigations, by contrast, at a certain point comes upon what I think of as a counter-myth to that of Eden-- a counter-interpretation of our present condition meant at once to recognize the repetitive force of our temptation to leave it as if our ordinary lives and language are limitations or compromises of the human, and at the same time, to indicate how following the temptation will lead to grief," end of quote.
And speaking of Wittgenstein's version of moral perfectionism, Cavell adds, "It is as if"-- let me see if I have that. "It is as if Austin's toying with the idea of original sin-- is in Philosophical Investigations given a philosophically serious, secular articulation, human talkers always tormented by possibilities untaken, forever cast down in taking them," end of quote. Unlike Wittgenstein, then, Austin-- on this reading-- would seem to form part of the dossier that Stephen Mulhall analyzed as philosophical myth of the fall.
But then, this may not be able to do justice to all that Austin has to say. Just as Cavell's own wording of a philosophically serious secular articulation, speaking of our being as always tormented-- forever cast down-- literally comes down to saying what he explicitly contradicts elsewhere in the longer quote that I gave about Freudian belatedness-- [SPEAKING GERMAN]. Namely, that not all meaning is always, much less forever, deferred.
Just as there is good and bad, moral and false perfection-- the ice walk, which we mentioned earlier, likewise, there is the good and bad ordinary, or even everydayness. What makes Cavell's reading of Wittgenstein, and with him, of Austin so interesting, and in the end, I would say brings him almost in the vicinity of a Jacques Derrida, no matter how much he seems to think otherwise, is his sense that these two possibilities-- the two ordinaries, the myth and counter-myth, the good and bad everyday-- are somehow folded into each other. And hence, should not be relegated to a different ontological realm at all.
Turning, to the extent that it takes place, does so, as it were, not just every day, but on the spot, in the moment. Or rather, seems not tied to any places or moments at all. Nor must it imagine itself to be in an icy abstraction of homogeneous space or also of time.
In any case, it will always be difficult-- perhaps impossible-- to tell whether and where, and how its event, just as so happened, when it does, always already lost, as it is, almost as soon as it is found. Alluding to this non-localizability-- call it eccentricity, mysticism, esoterism, excess-- which eludes the alternatives of both a mythical autochthon as given, and of exile, which is their second fixation and sedimentation, as we have seen, Cavell sums up his lifelong preoccupation with the ordinary in Wittgenstein, then, as follows.
"It is an interest about its being that to which we are to turn, or turn again, by saying that the investigations portrays our lives as something extraordinary, strange. In a sense, unnatural. The ordinary and the everyday are neither the natural element of the lives of words and deeds nor, to be sure, their irretrievable lostness in equally unnatural alienation, as in the counter-myth of escape, evasion, and icy abstraction. Every bad metaphysics would seem to stand for this.
On the contrary, if one can still say so, the ordinary is that to which we must ought turn and return. It is the extraordinariness of the ordinary, just as much as it is the ordinariness of the extraordinary. All of which makes the ordinary vulnerable and, ultimately, an extremely volatile notion, to say the very least.
Far from being the proverbial rock bottom on which our spades are turned, it is the very undergrounedness of what we cannot but be called to and yet, must call out ourselves, in turn. It is what we must revisit every day, even while largely unprepared, and mostly unguided, to do so. And I'll stop here.
SARI NUSSEIBEH: Well, the floor is yours.
HENT DE VRIES: OK.
SARI NUSSEIBEH: Questions?
SPEAKER 3: Just to find one thread to begin to unravel that tremendous [INAUDIBLE]. Towards the beginning, you-- very early on, actually, [? invited ?] Pierre Hadot to your [INAUDIBLE]
HENT DE VRIES: Yes.
SPEAKER 3: And to a statement that seemed much less abstract-- much less-- to borrow your term-- ordinary than the string of immensely elusive texts from Cavell. The Friedmann seems to be something that could be published in The New York Times or in Le Monde. And that a thoughtful person could take some instruction from.
And they [INAUDIBLE] for that day, a bit more aesthetic and a bit more ethical and a bit more joyous and appreciative. How do you relate, then, the Friedmann text that you brought to the broader structure of the essay? And a related way of phrasing a similar question-- do you understand Cavell's exploitations as being addressed primarily to philosophers or others who have the education and the leisure to work through these texts? Or is it a kind of model ethics along the lines of a preaching to a congregation?
HENT DE VRIES: OK. Point well taken. No. I think that there is no doubt to my mind that George Friedmann, in his writing-- and that means in his sociological studies. He was a sociologist of industry, of the industrial forms of organization. Just as he was also a fellow traveler in a very tense Cold War era, about which he has beautifully written in this book Power and Wisdom in a set of notes that he penciled during the war.
There's no doubt that Friedmann is the more concrete thinker, in a sense, although one should also add that in his writings, there is a profound engagement with the philosophy of his day. Not just Bergson, but also the reception of Spinoza's work. He has published a book on Spinoza and Leibniz. And so there's a level of abstraction there, as well.
But the gist of your question and the challenge for me to answer it is, could I imagine-- along the lines of Friedmann-- a concrete path, or set of paths, that would speak to either private, public, existential, and political issues in ways that do not bog us down into the more metaphysical niceties and subtleties that I was trying to unpack. I would say that-- and I don't want to talk myself out of this too easily. But that beginning by addressing the complexity of the very notion of the ordinary and the everyday is not a bad start.
And I think has to be done precisely because in any appeal to spirituality or spiritual exercises every day, you would want to dispel a certain facility as to what it is that we and the world are about. And I do feel that in Cavell's writings-- to a lesser extent, I suspect, in the Wittgenstein's writings, and in Austin's, even-- there is this existential political translation that you could make.
For example, I do think-- turning to the figure that Friedmann concludes with-- what does it mean to be worthy of the revolution? It would mean that one can think out of the ordinary-- that one can think out of the box. And that does not mean that one can muse a bit about alternatives for capitalism.
But it means to radically think out of the box somehow. A willingness, ability, or sensitivity to revisiting all the parameters that somehow make up our common world and our understanding of ourself. That's also why I do think that Cavell, for all the differences that he invokes in his philosophical training and archive, has a profound ongoing engagement with ontology, or existential ontology with the work of Heidegger. One could take this as one long, extended gloss on certain problems in the first half of Being and Time.
But if I may give one example-- and I actually had hoped and planned to terminate my talk with it, but then took too long to get there. There is one beautiful passage where the seemingly most intellectual, concentrated mind in this whole conversation-- namely, Austin-- in an anecdote of another philosopher makes, I think, what is a remarkable move.
OK. Let me see if I can get there. Yes. There's a set of personal reflections left by-- published in part by Isaiah Berlin, one of which touches upon Austin. And this is the anecdote. I first took it as a joke and a witticism. And then I thought, well, this is just the heart of the matter. If I could make this intelligible to myself-- and I'll read it to you-- then we have a political philosophy that is worthy of the revolution, so to speak.
"Supposing a child were to express a wish to meet Napoleon as he was at the Battle of Austerlitz, and I said"-- this is Berlin now, talking to Austin in one of the seminars that they shared. "And I said, it cannot be done. And if the child said, why not? And I said, because it's happened in the past and you cannot be alive now and also 100 years ago and remain at the same age, or something of the kind.
And the child went on pressing, and said, why not? And I said, because it does not make sense, as we use words, to say that you can be in two places at once or go back in the past, and so on. And then this highly sophisticated child said, if it's only a question of words, then can't we simply alter our verbal usage? Would that enable me to see Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz and also, of course, stay as I am now in place and time?
What-- I asked Austin," Berlin writes, "should one say to the child? Simply that it has confused the material and formal modes, so to speak? Austin replied, do not speak so. Tell the child to try and go back into the past. Tell it there is no law against it. Let it try. Let it try and see what happens then."
Now, there's an obvious reading of this pedagogy or anagogy, which is let the child try and it will find the ways of the world. It can be done. But I actually would like to give the lecture [INAUDIBLE]-- trained as a theologian as I am-- the least plausible reading is the most likely one.
And to say, well, this is, indeed, what Austin gives us to think. There is no law against it. Let her try. We cannot prejudge, given what the ordinary and the everyday mean and everyday use of language means. And exclude that something may not have been tried and may be impossibly possible after all.
I fully admit that that's a strange thought. But so is any thinking about events or miracles or anything that pertains to the out of the ordinary, by definition. That's not a satisfying answer to your question, but this is how I would want to begin.
By basically saying that yes, even though I spoke and put aside everything that Cavell and Wittgenstein say about icy abstraction, I would somehow justify to myself this speculative, metaphysical, all too abstract, exercise in terms of what Adorno writes in the opening pages of the Negative Dialectics. Writing at the moment of the student revolts in the late '60s in Frankfurt. When he says that-- in the preface, actually-- that theory did not tip over into praxis.
And perhaps, that's because the theory was not up to it and we need to wander through the ice fields of-- the icy deserts of abstraction in order to prepare the concept of praxis, or practice, that might have a better success of succeeding. That might be worthy of the revolution, so to speak.
But still, I could not produce them here on the spot all that easily. But there is a host of more concrete, anecdotal, or exemplary passages that one could bring up, even and especially in Cavell, I would say, as he reads Wittgenstein and as he reads Austin.
SARI NUSSEIBEH: Should we start from the very back?
HENT DE VRIES: Yes. Jim, yes.
HENT DE VRIES: Yes.
JIM: Early on, you said something, and I thought of a question. And then you answered it. [INAUDIBLE] I thought of something you did say. And I thought, well, I'll ask about that. [INAUDIBLE] mentioned it. [INAUDIBLE] talking about is [INAUDIBLE] ordinary. And the first problem is to [INAUDIBLE] occurs. [INAUDIBLE] And yet, [INAUDIBLE] talking about. I thought it was very strange that this [INAUDIBLE]. So this is not really a question, but [INAUDIBLE].
HENT DE VRIES: [INAUDIBLE]
HENT DE VRIES: That did not come up [INAUDIBLE].
JIM: [INAUDIBLE] aside from the question [INAUDIBLE]
HENT DE VRIES: Yes. OK. Well, there's no easy answer to that question, I think. I skipped-- or did not get to-- a later excursus, where I suggested that one way of understanding the ordinary and the everyday, now taken-- for the sake of convenience-- as near synonyms-- one of explicating what it means in these texts or in these compilations of quotes from more complex texts altogether is something that eludes the concept.
So I relapsed into my usual Adorno mode by saying that when Cavell teases out this notion of the ordinary, in its very division-- in its very vulnerability-- what he basically seeks to articulate is the non-conceptual. That what either entice us, seduce us, or derails a concept. That what is unknown or ungrasped in either word or deed.
So if I were to be asked by you now-- give me in one word, what is the everyday? What is the ordinary? I would say, it's what Adorno would call the [SPEAKING GERMAN], the point of flight of the concept, which means, then, also that one could not really say that the ordinary is either this or that. And one would have to put into question any ontic-- empirical, historical, naturalist-- or any metaphysical ontological discourse as being fully prepared to capture what it is, as it were.
And that's why I-- the larger project or ambition would be to indeed make good upon what Cavell says when he all ties this around the notion of understanding the vulnerability or the passion of the human self. By ultimately tying what the ordinary and the everyday is to this motif of calling and calling out and being called out. So what the ordinary is-- what the everyday is-- will ultimately be what I call it to be, what I take it to be. Each single instant for which every day is a motif that I used from Friedmann here.
So of course, what I'm trying to do is that-- this has come up in conversations here at SET, in one way or the other, at least in the ones that I've had-- is to think of Cavell's, Wittgestein's, and perhaps Austin's project as invested much more in a notion of philosophical, theoretical, critical style, rather than propounding certainty theses or falling into the trap of the constative fallacy, as Austin calls it. Not just by gesturing or not by espousing an aesthetic mode of thinking and writing. Cavell says, explicitly, taking the ordinary and the everyday requires that one is referred back to one's writing to the self-- to autobiography, et cetera, et cetera. But he explicitly says, contra [INAUDIBLE], that that does not make philosophy a quote, unquote "kind of writing."
But it is a matter of style, of-- call it an ethos, call it a way, a manniere, with all the risks of mannerisms, I guess, that depends, ultimately, upon my call. So what the ordinary, or the everyday, should be called is basically my call. And that's what I take the bottom line to be. Yes.
SPEAKER 4: [INAUDIBLE]
HENT DE VRIES: OK.
SPEAKER 4: My first question is [INAUDIBLE] of the presentation in his book about the non-recognizability of that?
HENT DE VRIES: Yes.
SPEAKER 4: And you saw a certain echo between Derrida and Cavell, in that sense. But when Cavell wrote his essay on the exchange between Derrida and [INAUDIBLE], He says that, OK, have people seen or not their similariy, but precisely because there's a minor difference, which can be the most dangerous difference, that you have to clarify. And so he says that, for Derrida, you cannot escape from philosophy.
But for me, you cannot escape to philosophy. And I think there is a certain nature with which you actually view the ordinary against the philosophical. Or when you say that if there another philosophy or isn't, there is no other precisely-- the other cannot [INAUDIBLE] precisely what there is. So my first question has to do with the nature-- the human nature with which you view the ordinary as encapsulating what's sublime and horror.
And what I sense in Cavell's distinction of himself from Derrida is not so much that everything has to do with aspect, but-- so because that ultimately ties into the nature of the ordinary, which Cavell is not really interested in answering. But precisely the strides that we make to keep things ordinary. You know, from-- keeping it from escaping, per se. In that sense, a dual aspect will not so much be the ordinary as philosophical, philosophy as ordinary. But precisely that we don't want to let things become, to some extent, philosophical or abstract. [INAUDIBLE]
And my second question is tied to the first question. When you speak about the everyday, [INAUDIBLE] as fictions, which almost just reorients what we already have in a certain way. I'm wondering-- in his forward to Shoshana Felmans' book, Scandal of the Speaking Body-- I know she speaks about how the infelicity of dancing in Austin basically leads to a free-for-all in which Don Juan can make all the promises necessary to every woman that he meets. And still retain some kind of moral scruple about what he's doing.
And then Cavell, in his forward, says that what is interesting in-- if we are talking about the language going awry in Austin, there's also the speaker aspect, in which we also have to ascribe to some kind of insincerity or ascribe to some kind of [INAUDIBLE] like an ordinary mess, in which, somehow the everyday is less a fiction than it's a transcendence. So I'm wondering-- so the author who speaks about descending to the ordinary-- [INAUDIBLE] wrote an essay in which she basically said that everyday does not have an exit or an entry gate with which you can enter into it or exit from it. It's not like, oh, [INAUDIBLE] everyday or not.
So I'm wondering if, to counter your gesture of evasion, is there some sense in which the extraordinary ordinariness [INAUDIBLE]. Or the spiritual practices is not so much about-- in the sense that what precisely in going away from it gets to the ordinary. And seeing the ordinary as already encapsulating something like excess.
HENT DE VRIES: This is a very difficult question and I sense, as I've always done when I speak with you, this kind of intimate familiarity, not just with the Cavellian texts, but also with the idiom and the movement of the thinking, to which I have come late and from a very different angle than our dear colleague and friend, [? Finados. ?] And so it's hard to respond because I'm actually prima facie to think that you must be right. And so I will have to rethink all these questions and ponder them.
But what strikes me as unhelpful in that essay that Cavell devotes to Derrida in Philosophical Passages, and then more extensively in A Pitch of Philosophy, is that he, like all of us, is either bemused or frustrated, rather, by the response in and to Derrida's signature event context. His reading, in a few pages only-- a few broad strokes, one might say-- of Austin.
And the subsequent exchange with John Searle. And this whole dossier, now partly incorporated in limited ink, seems to leave everything in some sort of a terrible impasse. So much so that some-- I think our colleague Jonathan Koehler here at Cornell-- have seen it as an exemplary exchange between the pivotal continental philosopher on the one hand and the pivotal analytic philosopher on the other. Whereas others, basically-- like Cavell says, this is not how this conversation is going to happen, if at all because they are talking at cross purposes. And there's a lot of posturing on all sides, as well.
But I do feel that the basic gesture that Cavell makes in that text by saying that Derrida has ignored, in Austin's How To Do Things with Words, a central motif that we should also say is introduced somewhat in passing. Namely, the reference to Euripedes, to ancient tragedy, to Hippolytus. And he has somehow taken Austin for a ride that is joyful and hilarious and great examples and inconclusive. Therefore, presumably, much to Derrida's taste.
But he has somehow neglected how Austin is steeped in a more tragic perspective that Cavell, then, graciously-- if not in that text, somewhat later-- picks up as having to elaborate himself more fully. Which is why he then takes Austin, interestingly, as being steeped in the ancient tradition of rhetoric-- in the study of the passions. And contributes an article to a beautiful volume that, sadly, has not come out in English, I think, although it was mostly written by American and English analytic philosophers. That somehow was redoing Aristotle's categories for the 21st century.
And Cavell contributes the essay on passion and then, somehow, teases out a whole string of insights into the performative and especially the notion of the perlocutionary. And how that brings out a more vulnerable passive element than he had accounted before. So much so that we are now taking leave of the whole total speech act theory that Austin alludes to and that Searle tried to elaborate.
But I feel that if he does that-- if he moves in that direction-- he's precisely, as it were, re-entering some of the conversation with Derrida. What I try to make here as a point now was not so much that Derrida refers and reverts back to the metaphysical as a given-- whereas Cavell is interested in looking in another direction-- as I was interested in trying to say that this seemingly most unambiguous, self-evident notion of the ordinary and the everyday to which we should draw back metaphysical transcendence and pull up metaphysical profundities is actually as elusive as absolving itself from our conceptual grip as anything else. So if you would want to put one further word upon it-- in addition to saying this is the [SPEAKING GERMAN]-- the point of flight of any concept-- you would have to say it is basically undecidable.
And at a certain point, when Cavell cites Beckett and Chekhov as having exemplified, in their writings, the extraordinariness of the ordinary and the ordinariness of the extraordinary, respectively, he seems to want to push to a point where we should relate to the ordinary without being able to tell whether it's ordinary or out of the ordinary. And I could find you a passage for that. But that was basically my only point of contention here. That not even the reference to tragic humanity and finitude is going to cut it.
Not even a certain [INAUDIBLE] of what I somewhat disrespectfully and regretfully have called Cavell's residual humanism in the conversation with [? Fina ?]. Not even that appeal to human nature is in plac. If, indeed, what Cavell ultimately admits that what interests him in Wittgenstein in this context is precisely our unnaturalness, as it were. I have not really touched upon the questions, but I would have to do that step by step. And I'll promise that for a different context. Yes.
SPEAKER 5: Looking at this quotation [INAUDIBLE] I'm intrigued by your challenge to interpret the last line of Chekhov generously. To imagine that they're not just setting up the child for failure as a way of teaching him that life sucks, I guess. But rather, that you're telling him he can find something else.
And I'm put in mind of a strategy-- I guess from reading, but I've seen in a bunch of different places-- where the idea is that you can, in fact, ask that people question, so long as their answers can be found in some manner by interpreting their writing. That there's not enough of a difference between interpreting the writings of a dead person and interpreting the [? speech ?] through their emails, of a living person as to make that distinction. The most notable proponent is [INAUDIBLE]. And so I was wondering if that's what you meant with that, or if there's something else, or if it's-- if the act of mentioning his [INAUDIBLE] maybe?
HENT DE VRIES: Well, I wasn't thinking of that people, but I was thinking of-- if one takes this whole idea, quite central and early on in Cavell's The Claim of Reason-- a paragraph entitled "What a Thing is Called." And a simple answer to that question, what a thing is called, is that is my call. Meaning that no matter how much we proliferate and debate our critical terms for distinguishing phenomena and explaining them or interpreting them, ultimately-- when that process has been exhausted-- there is nothing but my singular call and calling to tell you what it is or what it can be or what it should be.
The example is in Austin's discussion of the goldfinch in the garden where you can look out of the window, tell yourself it's a goldfinch. You're not quite sure. You pick up all the handbooks for onotology. You may ask someone in the room.
And lo and behold, at a certain point, you have exhausted all the criteria for identifying this bird. And Cavell seems to suggest that when that has been done, then one question has not yet been settled. Namely, that of its existence.
And there are similar examples. We're talking about a bird, an object, a thing outside in the garden. But there are ways where Cavell, I think, seeks to temper the external world's skepticism and its recitals. But this much is clear-- that we are not just talking about the bird in the garden, but we're talking about another mind.
Is this other person real? Is it not an automaton? And what have you. Can I believe this person? Is this person serious, sincere? Am I?
Somehow the problems grow-- multiply exponentially. And the bottom line, for Cavell, seems to be-- and he says so explicitly in Philosophy the Day After Tomorrow-- that the only way out of that scandal of skepticism is not just to walk away from it. It's basically to acknowledge that I am the scandal of skepticism. Somehow, the summary would be that the buck stops with me.
And if that's the case-- if that somehow affects how we look at the world and what it will allow us to do-- how we look at ourselves, what we will be able to do, or what others might do, or what we might do together, then that opens up a vast array of possibilities. And I did say-- and I have to sort this out-- that in Wittgenstein's conception of peace and rest, there is no eschaton, there is no end term, there is no kingdom of ends. There is no restitutio in integrum. There is no redemption, one might say, in any emphatic definition of that word.
But it would probably be more accurate to say that once one goes down this path of taking the [? I ?] as the scandal of skepticism, and letting things depend, if you like, on my call-- better any statement or interpretation regarding things or beings, including myself-- then virtually everything is possible, it seems. Or even the impossible becomes an option.
And that's why I was intrigued by what you said about that people, that in terms of how one then relates to the tradition also becomes a very interesting one. Because one might have to tend to conceit that everything that was past is not quite past. We all recall Barack Obama citing Faulkner. The past is not really past.
So one might even say that there is a way in which we relate to past now, that means to the thought and presence and realities of that people, so to speak. Which all of them might all still become available, as it were. So often, somewhat frivolously, I call that the moment of not just of calling, or calling things out, but of total recall. There's no reason why not everything-- any thoughts in the past-- would not be fully-- if not available, then at least relevant and important.
And Adorno, again, said so as much. You cannot think redemption, which means you cannot think a decent political order without thinking the resurrection of the body. That's Adorno.
And [INAUDIBLE] would be able to give you a host of quotes in [? Beaman ?] in the Passage [INAUDIBLE] and elsewhere, which likewise have that-- or in the thesis on the concept of history, which have this very anti-historicist, anti-linear, and antio-gradual or approximative tone to it. Yes.
SPEAKER 6: Thank you. I now have another pile of books to read when I get back. Basically, what I heard you say was that ordinary for us human beings is a vast [INAUDIBLE] and we inhabit the [INAUDIBLE], and that is our ordinary. And it struck me as very radically Protestant, actually. I kept hearing Paul saying [INAUDIBLE] and fear trembling. And Jonathan Edwards in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." and we are all spiders dangling over the abyss with the fires below us.
And since we are all spiders dangling over the abyss, I wondered what you thought about what the temptation for philosophy was. Because you were referring to spiritual exercises, and I wondered-- for you-- do you think that philosophy has a temptation ahead of it to give us-- here's [INAUDIBLE], a set of practices for thinking that would help us. Or does philosophy remain a schematic, formal-- here are the rules of engagement for thinking and we will clarify those, and then, you go ahead and you take your own risks?
HENT DE VRIES: No. You're-- Sari kindly mentioned the Protestantism. There is no doubt some of that. And in Paul, I would say, yes, there is this-- one could sum up Paul, if one wished, in this motif of being in the world, but not of the world. And that is a short summary of everything that I said in a very convoluted way. So that's all accurate, I would say.
I do think that my interest in the spiritual exercise motif is not so much to-- but it is also a little bit in Hadot at times-- to highlight motifs that, for us, in a modern, secular-- post-secular age might still be of relevance-- might speak to us. There are these moments in Hadot where he would seem to suggest that since we're not all going back to monasteries, and since the established churches have lost their appeal, what is the locus of mindfulness-- that's not his term-- of spiritual, mental reflection and the repercussions that that has for daily life? And that's not how I want to look at it.
But what I find interesting in Hadot is that he says, basically, well, if you look at the vast tradition of Western philosophy, beginning with the Greeks-- but he does not reduce it to that. He begins with oral cultures. He speaks of tradition of Chinese thought. There is a host of examples that he mentions, episodically. But others would have to unpack that.
What he basically says is that there's not just theoretical metaphysics-- teoria. And there's not just practical philosophy-- ethics, politics, legal thought. And there is not just aesthetics, as that which remains for us moderns. Which is part of his unease and unhappiness with the use that Michel Foucault made of his work in The History of Sexuality and in some of the lecture courses, where Hadot always felt that Foucault basically reduces to what he says, basically, a form of spiritual dandyism-- that's his word-- to an ethical stylization-- what is a much more complex and serious and sincere process of self-making and self-correction in the tradition of spiritual exercises.
But what one might say is that what spiritual exercise exemplifies is a mode of thought and a mode of doing that is not based upon principles from which, then, certain consequences are deduced. That is not based upon certain empirical observations from which, then, other conclusions are inferred. It doesn't work with simple maxims and rules that are then to be followed. It is basically-- as I said, it's a life in contradictions. It's a life in by way of coincidentia oppositorum.
It's a bit of-- there's a beautiful book by a great scholar of Indian thought at the Hebrew University-- Shulman-- David Shulman. The book is called More Than Real. And in it he has a beautiful chapter about traditions that he describes as yoga of the mind. And without going into any of the details, the idea is really the spiritual exercise, although I don't think that he refers to Hadot, and Hadot does not refer to these particular traditions.
There's a sense in which the thought practiced is not that of a thought experiment. It's not propounding theses. It's not a proliferation of moral maxims. But it's really like the living in and between contradictions, as it were.
Yes. That's the best answer I think I can give. And that's actually something-- not to become autobiographical-- that I have always asked myself. If one does not spend a lifetime thinking of philosophers like [? Beaman, ?] Adorno, but also in a very different tradition-- Levinas, Derrida-- and one could, I think, add Austin, Cavell to it-- as somehow running up in paradoxes and [INAUDIBLE], which one then has to fix. But if one asks oneself instead, what if the paradoxes and the [INAUDIBLE] were the point? What would it mean to-- and what are they seeking to affect?
If the ordinary is as aporetic as I tried to show, then the response by us to it, as we are invited by Cavell, is not to somehow sort out a theory that would make it less paradoxical or allow us to square the circle, as it were. But it is basically to follow the movement of thought and to be aware of what that precisely would do-- what that would open up-- while being fully aware of what it is that one also exposes oneself to.
And I-- Jonathan asked about the question of concrete politics. But I somehow feel-- but that would be a much longer argument-- that when George Washington gives his farewell speech to the American troops and describes the American Revolution as quote unquote, "almost a miracle," or when Lenin, in conversation with Trotsky and some of the Soviet engineers, ponders the prospects of the Bolshevik revolutions as the winter sets in and the trains are breaking down one by one. And says, maybe what we need is a miracle, or maybe we'll perform a miracle. And actually explicitly reflects on the infinite improbabilities of the revolution, which upon a certain reading, could be counted as miraculous.
Or when Jules Michelet, the great historian of the French Revolution, describes the French Revolution up to as the miracle of love. Then those are very concrete historical phenomena and processes with tremendous consequences that are somehow premised-- if one could say so-- on a curious event that was first of all addressed in very everyday, ordinary-- not to say prosaic, profane terms. But nonetheless, have that I mentioned of depth and-- what else? Undecidability. Yes?
SPEAKER 7: [INAUDIBLE]
SPEAKER 8: Thanks. I'm really thrilled by this return to Cavell and really got the significance of this thinking of places which are not, obviously, [INAUDIBLE] I'd like to try to ask about this idea of the return to the ordinary, because that seems to be key in the movement. And maybe try to understand which of the two following options you think are-- let's say, the structure of that movement of thinking.
Some of the things that Cavell says, which you quoted, make it sound as though there are ways of escaping the ordinary into, on the one hand, metaphysics, with his sublimizing existence. And therefore, constrain the ordinary, as religion does, uninteresting, [? war ?]. Or in terms of the skepticism in this catastrophic loss of every [? grounding ?] [INAUDIBLE]. And then, your sense would be that somehow you need [INAUDIBLE] or myths and we need something like counter-myth, which then will focus [INAUDIBLE] played out against each other. And so one thing that emerges out of that is the-- I would say, the persistance of myth-- of mythology.
So that would be one option. The other-- and myself-- I'm not clear which-- to attribute to Wittgenstein or to Cavell, or any [INAUDIBLE] for that matter. Would we say something like, well, metaphysics and skepticism are, in some sense, interlocked in this way which [? intends ?] to make [INAUDIBLE] into something that sustains our existence and develop the metaphysic, which flips into losing [INAUDIBLE] in skepticism. And what you have to arrest is that polarity, so this kind of moving back and forth between [INAUDIBLE] metaphysics, and this complete doubt of skepticism. And then, somehow, the ordinary would be what you muster and the resources of language that you muster in order to really give some peace. [INAUDIBLE] And then, I would think that there would be another picture. So the ordinary would actually be a place of respite for the mythological characters.
Now, this choice you would not think just throw away metaphysics as though it's nothing. He does involve himself in this fundamental means of [INAUDIBLE] but you cannot-- you have to get to the truth in metaphysics. In that sense, we turn to something which can be open only out of the idea's aspirations are. [INAUDIBLE] the metaphysics. So in some sense, you don't return to any place out of which metaphysics escape, but you return out of this destruction of the metaphysic to something-- does that speech make sense?
HENT DE VRIES: Yes. That makes a lot of sense. And I think that they somehow both appeal to me, although they're not identical.
But what if, now-- with the second picture-- the conclusion is that the ordinary, as repose or as this somehow retroactive, retrospective idea of flight-- is completely intangible-- is never to be had in hand, as it were? So much so that we seem to have no resources but either to resort to myth. Because the ordinary in this text is called the myth. And even, there is a counter-myth, which is like the good escape, if you like.
And what if the ordinary, somehow, immediately gives itself in these fictions and illusions, and even moments of transcending that we could hardly describe otherwise than invoking metaphysical ideas? What if it would even have certain features of essence? Which has to do, then, with our deep-seated needs and desires. There's this famous passage about essence in the lectures on the mathematics.
So it's hard for me to conceptualize or understand or to pinpoint where the ordinary, as a repose, comes in. I'm almost more tempted to say that the ordinary is nothing but the realization that we have in this wonderful first, at least, movie of The Matrix that the matrix cannot tell you who you are. The matrix being every conceptual apparatus up and down the spectrum. Skepticism, metaphysics-- all forms of pictures, idols, dogmatic images that you have.
So the ordinary and the everyday would voice nothing but the sense that none of that matrix that maps out the world captures, at the deepest level, who or what we are, or might still be. So that would be the ordinary.
But it's hard to think of it, then, otherwise than in terms of something deeply spiritual. It may not be something consisting of mind only, but is definitely having to do with the life of the mind.
SARI NUSSEIBEH: We have two more questions, if you'd like.
HENT DE VRIES: Yeah. Yes, please.
SPEAKER 9: The Paul poetic piece that you mentioned several times-- [INAUDIBLE] being in the world but not of the world is actually-- I was wondering why it was so familiar to me when I looked it up. And it's actually a line in Angels in America, that Joe says to Louis all along the beach. And that plays into-- also encapsulates much of what we've talking about here-- politics and practice politics and religion.
But one thing that I was wondering about, especially with what this quote brings up, is the question of the body and material world. And I was just wondering if there's a way in which we can say that if I behave ordinary, on one hand, it's about the mind, but on the other hand, we're reminded-- when we know what we accept. It's like a return to this body. And there's something about the [INAUDIBLE] in the world around us. So I was just wondering how that moved us into this.
HENT DE VRIES: Yes. I cited the body once, which doesn't happen often in my-- but no. It's an important motif. And it has its place Cavell. And in particular, I think, also in the context of the text devoted to the preface to Shoshana Felman. I would have to think about it more because I can easily see how it is almost synonymous or an equivalent or a potential substitute for everything that I have, here, headed under the spiritual, as it were.
Again, for me, that doesn't, prima facie, pose a problem. If you look at Adorno's main work, The Negative Dialectics, this was originally going to be entitled A Theory of Spiritual Experience-- [SPEAKING GERMAN]. And it's clear that what spiritual means there has much to do with the body, with metareality.
And that's also true for Cavell. There's the famous quote where, in the fourth part, I think, of The Claim of Reason, Cavell cites Wittgenstein. That the body is the best picture-- is it picture? yes-- of the soul. And then he goes on to say that the crucified body is the best picture of the unacknowledged soul.
So there's not only a whole interesting engagement with Christian tropes, but there you have the-- it doesn't get much more bodily than that, no? So I would take your question as an invitation to somehow rewrite and rethink all of this. But now, in terms of the body. And my hunch is that the body, then, will be something-- not a thing-- but something that has less to do with individuated corporeality than with some dimension of our existence.
Without resorting to, let's say, the later Merleau-Ponty's construct of the flesh of the world and what have you as a metaphor for pure being or the wildness of being, if you like. But my hunch is that it can be done. I acknowledge that I haven't done it. No, true.
HENT DE VRIES: Yes.
SPEAKER 9: Thank you very much. I'll try to make this very quick. The skepticism that you cited in this presentation-- is very particular to early modern skepticism, right?
HENT DE VRIES: Yeah.
SPEAKER 8: Which was characterized precisely by a hyperbolic nature. It's not so much about it being reasonable. It's precisely because it's unreasonable that it's a problem leading to these anxieties and stuff.
With ancient skepticism, on the other hand-- someone like Pyrrho-- their concerns weren't really these lofty concerns. They would-- for the Pyrrhonists, for instance, they were made of for these very reasons that [INAUDIBLE] that you can walk down the street if everything is subject to [INAUDIBLE].
Their answer would be very simple. They wouldn't be occupying two different positions. They would just say that I don't doubt that a chair exists. All I doubt is what I believe about the chair. And that opens towards this type of natural attitude that's free of judgment-- ataraxia-- because they thought that anxiety was precisely what was paralyzing. How would your understanding of this everyday be in conversation with those skeptics?
HENT DE VRIES: That's a very good question because it's very clear that those authors-- the ancient skeptics-- are the reference for Pierre Hadot's work. Much rather than Descartes or Hume or Husserl or what have you. Kant, Heidegger.
So I think the strategy would probably be to de-dramatize the modern skeptical recital might not only by showing, as has been done, that when Descartes writes The Six Meditations and gives it the form of a spiritual exercise, that itself opens up a much longer tradition that probably sheds light on Descartes's text, not just as a hyperbolical, skeptical recital with all the problems that come with it, but actually as much more steeped in that longer tradition that was also a form of non-aesthetic self-fashioning, if you like.
And I know that Cavell reflects upon some of these moments and motifs. The reason that I became so interested in Cavell was not so much early on the problem of the ordinary and the everyday, but really how it is that he finds a use for concepts such as conversion, philosophical meditation, precisely when he describes the Philosophical Investigations and much else. So he, I think, already reads Wittgenstein-- and more indirectly Descartes, Kant, Heidegger, and Hume-- as having this more meditative, and less theoretical hyperbolical streak, as it were.
But it is true. I cannot say that I have fully understood the implications of the two paradigms, but one is well advised. And I have some colleagues at Johns Hopkins who have made very important contributions to these fields, which [INAUDIBLE] on Pyrrho-- Michael Williams on Descartes, in particular-- and have always argued that these are very different, historically specific forms of skepticism that you cannot just lump together.
SARI NUSSEIBEH: I think it's past time.
HENT DE VRIES: I think so. Yes.
SARI NUSSEIBEH: I have spoken now.
HENT DE VRIES: Excellent.
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Hent de Vries, Russ Family Professor in the Humanities and Philosophy and director of the Humanities Center at Johns Hopkins University, spoke at Cornell on July 20, 2015, as part of the School of Criticism and Theory public lecture series.