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Fascinating: How Stanley Cavell Was Fascinated by JL Austin

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Gimme a bigger brain. I’ll settle for a bigger trigger of fascination.

Stanley Cavell’s uneven memoir about becoming a philosopher (Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory) is interesting and boring and interesting. Like a lot of philosophy texts, it calls to you days and weeks after you’ve put it down and made peace with never finishing it. I’ve checked it out twice and twice have not finished it—usually a signal I need to actually buy the book with cash money.


Today I’m rethinking Cavell’s descriptions of sitting under the teaching of JL Austin when he visited UC Berkeley from Oxford. Cavell’s descriptions of Austin are not always becoming or charming. JL Austin was a brilliant philosopher but also a bit of a cad, it turns out. But what’s of particular interest is how blown away Cavell was by Austin’s “A plea for excuses.” It’s a pedantic text—like a lot of Austin’s writing. But for Cavell it was full of clarity and win and entirely energizing. Just based on Cavell’s enthusiasm, I’ll reread Austin’s paper.

Enthusiasm is humanity’s secret weapon. The boring teacher is the one unimpressed/unmoved/unchanged by the subject matter she drones on about. But the enthusiastic cheerleader for speech act theory or a particular camera lens or the lobster roll at The Smack Shack is enough to move me to action. As a copywriter I think a lot about how to present this priority or that piece of information so an audience will become interested. But human enthusiasm cuts through all technique and strategy, like sunlight burning off fog. Maybe that’s why word of mouth is the pot of gold every marketer seeks today.


Image credit: Lia Halloran via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

June 26, 2013 at 10:00 am

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