CITIES OF WORDS: Pedagogical Letters on a Register of the Moral Life

Stanley Cavell, Author . Harvard Univ. $29.95 (458p) ISBN 978-0-674-01336-0

Drawing equally upon Emerson and classic Hollywood cinema, Cavell (A Pitch of Philosophy ), a renowned professor of philosophy at Harvard, explores a theory of "moral perfectionism" in this work taken from a collection of lectures given at Harvard and the University of Chicago. Against the predominantly metaphysical notion of perfection that demands moral questions be provided with absolute answers, Cavell explores the more uncertain intersection of intellectual and emotional elements in everyday moral choices that quotidian social affairs frequently demand from us. He covers the juxtaposition of the individual and the broader community and the crises of conformity that confront moral agents by analyzing remarriage comedy films of the 1930s and 1940s. While in its own right a profound addition to film criticism in its reading of Hollywood favorites such as The Philadelphia Story , Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Now, Voyager , lay readers will be entertained by Cavell's attention to cinematic detail and pragmatically therapeutic approach to moral questions. A sober examination of an ethics of "self-reliance," Cavell's cinematic criticism is as entertaining as it is enlightening and exemplifies, once again, his uncanny ability to recover the deepest insights of modern life within the language of the ordinary. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/26/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
Paperback - 480 pages - 978-0-674-01818-1
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