Teaching Beyond Himself: After Cavell’s Ordinary

Cavell’s project has helped to revivify discussions around ordinary language, practices of attention, the critical role of affect, and more. Yet while Cavell anticipates current modes of thinking about the ordinary in significant respects, his work also occupies a space adjacent to them, or even falls short of them.

Ordinary language is key to Cavell’s formulation of community, and to his hopes for what the first-person plural ‘we’ can do. However, the ordinary is a notably ambivalent and slippery idea. Further, contextual aspects of Cavell’s endeavour – American, disciplinary, and historical – complicate his espousal of it. This talk sketches some of the complexities and potential pitfalls of the ordinary in relation to Cavell’s work and its critical afterlives, as well as touching on relevant literary writing.