Stanley Cavell, Shakespeare and ‘The Event’ of Reading
University College Dublin, IE
Áine Mahon is Assistant Professor in Education in the School of Education at UCD. She researches and teaches in the Philosophy of Education and the Philosophy of Literature. Áine's first monograph, The Ironist and the Romantic: Reading Richard Rorty and Stanley Cavell, was published by Bloomsbury in 2014, and she has published broadly in the topranking journals in her field (Journal of Philosophy of Education, Philosophy and Literature, Textual Practice). For individual and collaborative research Áine has received grants, fellowships and prizes from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Society for Applied Philosophy, the Irish Research Council, Fulbright Ireland, the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and the Royal Irish Academy.
In the context of a third-level liberal arts education, this article interrogates the idea and practice of ‘reading’. Questioning what might be at stake more publicly in this most private of acts, I am interested particularly in how certain conceptualizations of reading inhibit the pedagogical moment in its essential unpredictability. When we refer to reading as a process of ‘comprehension’, ‘absorption’ or ‘appropriation’, I argue, there is a real danger that we obstruct or close down the horizon of textual experience. In development of this argument, I draw on the philosophy of Stanley Cavell. I focus particularly on Cavell's reading of King Lear, arguing that the philosopher's engagement with the Shakespearean text is interestingly at odds with the model of ‘active criticism’ so beloved and encouraged by departments of English Literature. As it forgoes typical educational emphases on the known and the fully certain, this Cavellian engagement aligns in interesting and important ways with the weak pedagogy of Derrida and Caputo. I conclude that this Cavellian mode of reading creates an enlightened space for teaching as event.