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TAC Bookshelf for the Week of August 20

Scott Beauchamp, contributor: I took the recent passing of acclaimed Harvard University professor Stanley Cavell as somber occasion to finally read something of him. I wasn’t disappointed. Reading Cavell’s Emerson’s Transcendental Etudes at the same time that I returned to Emerson’s essays themselves (particularly his early Nature essays), helped me to hear the two American thinkers as caught in an echo, or maybe an isomorphic relation. What they share in common is a delicately sophisticated prose sensibility, rich and beautiful writing that sinks deep into a reader’s mind while somehow maintaining a seductive elusiveness. I still have my own reservations about Emerson, but Cavell does me the great service of helping me to better understand and articulate those criticisms. What a gift it is to be able to enjoy spending time with a mind that you fundamentally disagree with.

Cavell and Emerson both are able to elevate notions I find anathema into something approaching poetry. As Cavell writes about Emerson intentionally conflating the notions of “finding” and “founding”, in a passage which describes a fundamental loss of telos, Cavell writes: “At each step, or level, explanation comes to an end; there is no level to which all explanations come, at which all end. An American might see this as taking the open road. The philosopher as the hobo of thought.” It’s worth spending time wandering with these two charming American hobos of thought, even if only to rediscover the value of a permanent home.

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