February 20, 2005
From Stanley Cavell
On the evening of February 24, 2005
I will not be where Cathleen and I want to be, in Albuquerque with others of Gus’s friends gathered with his family, but instead I am to give a talk that evening some five thousand miles from there, at the Cinematheque in Lisbon, as I agreed some months ago to do, introducing a series of a dozen films they have scheduled there beginning with It Happened One Night and The Lady Eve and The Philadelphia Story. These are three of countless films Gus and I spent time on together and I thank him for that in a book I wrote about such films. I thank him in other books for other conversations. But I profited from those conversations beyond any thanks I know how to give. And I know that others trying to get on with writing books or making other things have the same causes for gratitude I have and feel the same way I do. What I do not know is of anyone else whose range of friends, and whose care of his friends, was as great as Gus’s. He knew people, and kept up with people, from all the lives he had led, or was living, seeming to have room in his memory for writings and images made by everyone, famous and not, that he had ever come across who showed a talent for doing something or saying something or playing something distinctive, and Gus had the rare knack and the tact of forming words of encouragement for them. There kept being new names, some strange to me, some known to many, entering his conversation, or into one of his delirious monologues from a theater of his own. He finished some memorable projects, and I believe others also must have tried and cried to get him to finish more, small and large. It is frightening to think how many unfinished projects there must be heavy evidence of, ones he was right never to give up on. This means that numbers of people who would have cared to know may not know what we know. But we know it. And I join in celebrating it.
Gus Blaisdell, Stanley Cavell, David Jones – Living Batch Bookstore Albuquerque, New Mexico
Excerpt of Stanley Cavell’s Forward from Gus Blaisdell Colllected.
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:
∙ xi ∙ Foreword Stanley Cavell ■ Only for the months Gus came to Cambridge and, whatever else caught his interest, participated in my seminar every week at Harvard on film and philosophy through the fall of 1984, did we spend the kind of time together that those who knew him through years in Albuquerque could count on. They will be able to testify better than I to the radiating figure Gus assumed among interlocking or mutually shunning groups of writers and intellectuals, artists and academics, and other offshoots knowable from the vicinity of the famous and inspiring bookstore he molded and tended a block or two from the University of New Mexico. Yet while Cathleen and I visited Albuquerque over a couple of decades just three or four times, for a total of probably no more than two or three weeks, the man I knew is fully continuous with the marvelous sketches rendered by Ira Jaffe and David Morris, just now reaching my inbox. They both refer to Gus’s sometimes singling out my writing for special praise. I too, of course, was sometimes struck by this. Since I was aware of the range of gifted people Gus knew, I explained this periodic favoring of my work as his taking heart for his own work, specifically, from my varying efforts to resist the isolating or insulating of philosophy and the arts from each other in so much American writing in the field. I suppose it is since his death, and noticing my eightieth year come and go, that I have come to see Gus’s unique, tireless way of weaving isolation with intimacy in a further, I would say more particular, light. If Gus had vowed to various of the gods in his care that in case he could not complete the projects of writing he had in mind, along with myriad drafts in hand, he would nevertheless take the time to see to his artistic and intellectual and moral immortality by permanently etching his spirit on the consciousness, and beyond, of friends and strangers. Often with apparent xii ∙ foreword abandon, but so characteristically, in return, incorporating a fragment associated with a companion, present or absent, of any depth or era whose talent he had tasted and had instantly and endlessly metabolized, he could hardly have been more faithful and successful in this mission. How else can one explain the eerie agreement among his untotaled company of friends and strangers concerning his learning and accomplishments (abstract and concrete ), and his love of learning and accomplishment, and hence sometimes, his all the more intimately self-punishing hesitations before his ambitions for his own writing and philosophy and languages and passionate curiosities , his own angles of world sense? There is, I take it for granted, ready agreement that Gus’s capacities for friendship and for original modes of conversation—conversations characteristically demanding of him turns of improvised impressions, some doubtless lovingly burnished over years, of characters real or abstracted or invented, from rappers to orators, across all races—were touched with genius. But, as my speculation just now about his divine bargain was meant to mark, there is no comparably shared understanding about the motivation, or say, rather, the ferocity of energy, that brought him to and served him in fashioning, and attacking, his version of existence. Many of us will have been beneficiaries of his encouragement.The capacity to praise pertinently is terribly rare and must have taken various emphases within Gus’s circles among those who benefited from it. In the rest of my few pages here, I want to say something more particular about how this was between Gus and me. Several people have asked me about an unusually regular series of phone calls that engaged us for some time following Gus’s return to Albuquerque. (At the end of that Harvard fall term, just after the middle of December, Gus drove me in his truck to the Boston airport for my lonesome departure to Jerusalem to join a literary/philosophy group half way through its year of work, Cathleen and our two sons meant to follow some weeks later. So the series of phone calls probably began when I returned at the beginning of the following summer.) Gus and I had learned that we each began work early in the day, and though our different time zones prevented the simultaneity of the hour, we managed effectively to begin a number of our days with a call. My understanding of the…
Notes on Remarriage Comedies aka comedies of equality or dailiness…
Classical comedy (cc) involves a young pair overcoming obstacles who get together for the first time. Ends in festival, feast, wedding; the old ratify the young, the young acknowledge the old, and society is assured of continuing.
Remarriage comedy (henceforth, rem.) involves an older pair, seeking a divorce, who end up getting back together, together again. Privacy (rem) is studied as opposed to the public ( classical comedy).
Freud asks, What does the woman want? Consider inflections: peevish, exasperated, impatient. Better, rephrase as, Given male desire is figured dramatically by the Oedipus complex, What is the form of female desire?
(Note. Freud argued that the Oedipus complex was universal, applying to humans regardless of sex. Questionable.)
Rem answers, what the woman wants is education. Education means leading out the best self, not indoctrination—seeking the attainable but as yet unattained self(of both). Who has education to give?
Men do, and the form this takes in rem is that the men endlessly lecture the women. (Possible shadow: the man could be pretending to provide education but really be [ seducing ] the woman, turning her into his private toy for his pleasure.) So the creation of the new woman is the business of men. But in truly transforming the woman the man must himself undergo change—such that the couple transformed is a new birth or vision of the human. That a man can walk in the direction of his dreams we all know; but that a woman can, and with the right man, is some of the news this genre brings.
This is accomplished in Cavell’s and Milton’s terms only through a meet and happy conversation, where “meet” means “just”: helpmeet, as in Genesis, not helpmate. These conversations (and lectures) take enormous amounts of time. The price for the woman is that no sense of “mother” applies to her: she is not one and her own is not present. (Sexuality between the two trying to divorce is a displaced issue; in cc it is central issue.)
Part of the change required of the man is humiliation. Essential to this is the fact of what I will call mutual forgiveness (a form of Gratified Desire?), acknowledgment.
The father is always on the side of the woman’s desire, unlike cc where he can be the first obstacle.
Since privacy is studied, often in a place of perspective called a green world, or in the rem genre, Connecticut; the marriage to work is beyond the sanction or church, state, or society. The real scandal is love, the outlaw status of its truth (p. 31) (Sherwood forest is a green world, as is Eden—to which we can’t quite return; and Shakespeare’s Arden). The feature of the green world allows the couple to feel that they have grown up together(p.31). An incestuous relationship is changed into one that can stand public scrutiny. Questioning this is one reason why Amanda Bonner takes their [private] marriage to court.
A constant threat to rem is that at any moment it can become melodrama. Adam’s Rib frames the Bonner’s marriage with the melodrama of the Attinger’s marriage. It is from Adam’s Rib that Cavell will derive the melodrama of the unknown woman.
*from Gus’s computer
Gus Blaisdell Collected editors William Peterson and Nicole Blaisdell Ivey will be DISCUSSING GUS Saturday January 5th 3:00 pm at Bookworks 4022 Rio Grande Albuquerque, New Mexico
Cover photo by Nicole Blaisdell Ivey