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"'Understanding from Inside,' or Critique and Admiration: Reading after Wittgenstein and Cavell"

The Philosophy and Literature Initiative presents a lecture by Toril Moi.

Ordinary language philosophy, which I define as the philosophical tradition after Ludwig Wittgenstein and J. L. Austin as established and extended by Stanley Cavell, proposes a powerful method for undoing illusions and exposing incoherent thinking. Yet this is not "critique" in the usual sense of the term term in literary studies, for the same method also allows us to develop intellectually powerful accounts of our admiration for a text, a film, or a work of art.

I shall show that ordinary language philosophy develops a method of reading which undoes the traditional opposition between "suspicious" (or "symptomatic") and "sympathetic" reading. For this method does not begin in suspicion, but in an attempt to see the question from the other person’s point of view, in an effort to grasp as accurately as possible precisely why the other critic, or the writer, says what she says. The most telling critique will always emerge from the best understanding of how it is that the other can say what she says. 

At the same time, this method of reading also puts us in a position to explain, powerfully and with intellectual rigor, why a literary text, a film, or a work of art does what it does, and why a work deserves our admiration. In this way, ordinary language philosophy puts us in a position to explain why we care about literature and other arts, and why their insights matter.

About the speaker:
Toril Moi was educated at the University of Bergen in Norway and has taught at Duke University for many years.

She has also taught at the University of Bergen as well as Oxford University. She is now the James B. Duke Professor of Literature and Romance Studies, and also has appointments in English, Philosophy, and Theater Studies. She also directs Duke's Center for Philosophy, Arts, and Literature.

She is the author of Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory, Simone de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual Woman, What is a Woman? And Other Essays, and editor of The Kristeva Reader and of French Feminist Thought. Her most recent book, entitled Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism: Art, Theater, Philosophy, won the MLA's award for best book in comparative literary studies in 2007. She has also recently published a "student edition" of her What is a Woman?, entitled Sex, Gender, and the Body. She is a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

This event is co-sponsored by the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages and the Stanford Humanities Center.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014. 05:15 PM


Stanford Humanities Center, Levinthal Hall