Film-Philosophy Conference, Film-Philosophy Conference 2012

“Film Came After Lightening”: Stanley Cavell and Film as the Rediscovery of Philosophy

Niklas Forsberg


In this paper, two thoughts that I take to be central to Stanley Cavell’s philosophy as a whole will be brought into view and linked to each other. The first is his idea that learning one’s language is a process that one can never be over and done with – and this is something that is supposed to be true, not only in the familiar sense that we can combine our concepts in unforeseen ways, but also that this may be true of singular concepts. The other is his claim that films are particularly “apt” to capture “the everyday” or “the ordinary.” Initially, two questions are posed.

(i) What does it mean to say that learning a language is an infinite task?

(ii) What is it that films capture that make them particularly apt in the philosophical struggle to attain clarity about the ordinary, and why is that particular presentation philosophically relevant?

The point of making this connection is to bring into view the way in which film can be philosophically instructive more or less “accidentally.” From the Cavellean perspective, film is not primarily “philosophical” by means of presenting or representing philosophical views or theories, but because it forces us to rethink our concepts and by making clear to us that philosophy may “happen” almost anywhere.

Thus, the response to the abovementioned questions that will be presented and argued for, is that film may constitute a “rediscovery of philosophy” in the sense that it may adequately present precisely that which philosophy may be seen as a flight from (i.e. “the ordinary”) and that it thus may force us to rethink and reconsider that which philosophy does not want to know.

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About the Presenter

Niklas Forsberg
Department of Philosophy, Uppsala University

PhD in Theoretical Philosophy

I received my PhD at UppsalaUniversity (2005) on work which traces the philosophical importance of “literature” in Jacques Derrida’s philosophy back to its motivation in the central concerns of deconstruction; and critically investigates how that notion of “literature” hangs together with Derrida’s philosophy of language and the enormous question about what it means to inherit a language.

I have continued to (strive to) work broadly in philosophy, convinced that sharp and politically motivated delineations of philosophical “fields” (such as e.g. analytic vs. continental, exegetical vs. systematic, practical vs. theoretical, problem-oriented vs. meta-philosophical) are harmful to philosophy. Specific philosophical problems tend, if important and real, to love company – so what we say and think in one “field” of philosophical discourse matter to other “fields”.

One might say that my research interest include philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of culture, philosophical methodology, philosophy of literature and film, history of philosophy, history in philosophy, aesthetics, and, obviously, logic and ethics – and the interconnections between all of the above…

Central themes of my research are questions about what carries philosophical conviction and of how our most fundamental beliefs are to be reconsidered or even expressed and elucidated. These kinds of questions about the nature of philosophical argumentation and about the form of philosophical expressions are connected with questions about the concepts “the everyday” and “the ordinary” and to how philosophy stand in relation to these.

I am currently completing a monograph entitled Language Lost and Found: On Iris Murdoch and the Limits of Philosophical Discourse which treats the thought that some philosophical problems arise due to our having lost the sense of our own language and how that problem is dealt with in recent discussions of the relationship between philosophy and literature. In this monograph, Iris Murdoch is my main conversation partner. This work is the main outcome of a research project, funded by The Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation, called The Novel and the Nature of Philosophical Argumentation: A Study of Iris Murdoch’s, Martha Nussbaum’s and Cora Diamond’s Philosophies of Literature.

Among the philosophers that I keep returning to for inspiration and new challenges are e.g. J. L. Austin, Stanley Cavell, R. G. Collingwood, Jacques Derrida, Cora Diamond, Michel Foucault, Ian Hacking, Martin Heidegger, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Iris Murdoch and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

I have regularly taught courses about, e.g. Film and Philosophy; Philosophy and Literature; 20th Century Philosophy; 20th Century Philosophy (Advanced); Austin and the Ordinary Introduction to Phenomenology; Philosophy of Mind; Philosophy of Science; Philosophy of the Human Sciences; Modernism/Postmodernism.

I have been a Visiting Researcher at ÅboAcademyUniversity (2009-2010) and a Fulbright Visiting Researcher at the University of Chicago (2012).

I am a member of the board of the Nordic Wittgenstein Society and on the editorial board of the Nordic Wittgenstein Review.