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Philosophy, Literature, America

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University College Dublin, 30-31 May 2014

Stanley Cavell has spent a philosophical career urging that American philosophy and American literature have always called for and communicated with each other, that in a romanticized New World literature for philosophy is neither “arbitrary embellishment” nor “necessary other”. Most creatively in readings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, he follows this entangled thread to find and found an intellectual tradition as naturally redemptive as it is natively American. Of course, Cavell works not to collapse but to interrogate the boundaries between the philosophical and the literary. From the 1960s to the present, his is a guiding intuition that the relationship between American literature and American philosophy stands in need of questioning, of opening, of unsettling – with all the latter’s evocation of anxiety as well as movement. This two-day international conference takes these pronouncements as guide and provocation. Opening beyond Cavell’s particular exemplars, and appealing to researchers not only in philosophy but in intellectual history and literary studies, we welcome contributions that explore the deep synchronicity between philosophy and literature in the American grain.

Ranging in historical scope from the writings of the first settlers to the fiction, poetry and drama of modernist and contemporary America, we challenge Cavell in his foregrounding of transcendentalism as the originary expression of a natively American philosophy. Cavell is understandably keen to rescue transcendentalism from perceived cultural and philosophical repression but we suggest (partly in challenge and partly in continuation of this project) that the philosophy/literature conversation can be heard in America as far back as the Puritans. Equally, we wish to understand this conversation as fully alive and fully evolving. In the fictional experiments of David Foster Wallace and Don De Lillo, to offer just two examples, we propose a coincidence of concern with the “literary turn” as variously encapsulated in the writings of Cavell, Richard Rorty, Martha Nussbaum and Cora Diamond.

These clashes of the philosophical and the literary in mind, a cluster of intellectual issues emerge. Firstly, in reading American philosophy with American literature, is there a critical temptation always to put the philosophy/theory first and the literature second? Does American literature and literary criticism pay attention to developments in American philosophy? Can American philosophy welcome American literature and still lay claim to methodological rigour? Have contemporary American philosophers characteristically restricted their analysis to a particular set of literary texts? And how might these same analyses be affirmed or troubled in acts of critical reading? These questions are not intended as exhaustive but as indicative of the broad range of our theoretical and methodological concern.
Friday, 30 May
10.00-10.30 Mahon, Marchetti and McHugh (UCD) – Welcome and Introduction
10.30-11.30 Russell Goodman (New Mexico)- Emerson on Race, Slavery, and the Nature of His Polemical Writings
11.30-12.30 Paul Grimstad (Yale) – Emerson’s Style
12.30-2.00 Lunch
2.00-3.00 Richard H. King (Nottingham) – Political Philosophy and (American) Literature: On Hannah Arendt
3.00-4.00 Rosa Maria Calcaterra (Rome) – Rorty’s Aesthetic Challenge
4.00-5.00 Book Launch – Áine Mahon, The Ironist and the Romantic: Reading Richard Rorty and Stanley Cavell (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).  Supported by the Fulbright Commission of Ireland and UCD School of Philosophy.
6.00 Dinner

Saturday, 31 May
10.00-11.00 Martin Woessner (The City College of New York, CUNY) – “A posture of sufficient humility”: Martha Nussbaum on Love and Literature
11.00-12.30 Panel (1) on David Foster Wallace
Áine Mahon (UCD) – “The Difficulty of Reality” in Cora Diamond and David Foster Wallace
Adam Kelly (York)- In Quest of American Sincerity: Stanley Cavell and David Foster Wallace
Clare Hayes-Brady (UCD) – “Personally I’m neutral on the menstruation point”: Wallace and the Feminine
12.30-2.00 Lunch
2.00-3.00 Panel (2) on Stanley Cavell
Erik Hmiel (Wisconsin) – Brillo Boxes and Souls: Arthur Danto, Stanley Cavell, and the Aesthetics of Ordinary Synonymy
Fergal McHugh (UCD) – On Cavell and Don DeLillo
3.00-4.00 Alice Crary (The New School for Social Research, New York) – Ethics and the Concept of the Human

All meetings will take place at the Newman House, St. Stephens Green, Dublin 2.
Participation is free but space is limited. To confirm your attendance, or with any other enquiries, please email americanvoice@ucd.ie.