Disposability, Availability

Marcel’s term for ‘disposability’ is ‘disponibilité’.  Here it is translated as ‘availability’:

[Availability] of course does not mean emptiness, as in the case of an available dwelling (local disponible), but it means much rather an aptitude to give oneself to anything which offers, and to bind oneself by the gift.  Again, it means to transform circumstances into opportunities, we might say favours, thus participating in the shaping of our own destiny and marking it with our seal.  It has sometimes been said of late , “Personality is vocation”.  It is true if we restore its true value to the term vocation, which is in reality a call, or more precisely the response to a call.  We must not, however, be led astray here by any mythological conception.  It depends, in fact, on me whether the call is recognised as a call, and strange as it may seem, in this matter it is true to say that it comes both from me and from outside me at one and the same time; or rather, in it we become aware of that most intimate connection between what comes from me and what comes from outside, a connection which is nourishing or constructive and cannot be reliquished without the ego wasting and tending toward death.

Perhaps we might make this clearer by pointing out that each of us from the very beginning, appears to himself and to others as a particular problem for which the circumstances, whatever they may be, are not enough to provide a solution.  I use the term problem absolutely against my will, for it seems to be quite inadequate.  Is it not obvious that if I consider the other person as a sort of mechanism exterior to my ego, a mechanism of which I must discover the spring or manner of working, even supposing I manage to take him to pieces in the process, I shall never succeed in obtaining anything but a completely exterior knowledge of him, which is in a way the very denial of his real being?  We must even go further and say that such a knowledge is in reality sacrilegious and destructive, it does no less than denude its object of the one thing he has which is of value and so it degrades him effectively.  That means–and there is nothing which is more important to keep in view–that the knowledge of an individual being cannot be separated from the act of love or charity by which this being is accepted in all which makes of him a unique creature or, if you like, the image of God…

I supply this quotation as a commentary on and extension of my earlier post, Making Ourselves Disposable.  One striking thing about this, for anyone who is a fan of Cavell’s work, and especially of his essay, “The Availability of the Later Wittgenstein”, is how much like Cavell it sounds, and how much light it sheds on at least one meaning of the title of his essay.  I am quite sure that one sense of ‘availability’ in the title is Marcel’s sense.  The second paragraph reads like a digest of Cavell’s thinking about Other Minds, setting up, as it does, Cavell’s crucial understanding of acknowledgement.

15 responses

  1. i had cause to read some of merleau-ponty’s ‘phenomenology of perception’ earlier this year and had a similar sense as to affinities with cavell.

    i wonder if henry bugbee doesn’t have a lot to do with that, in cavell’s case.

    • I wonder about that too. I wish I had a better understanding of Cavell’s relationship to Bugbee. (I’ve been reading Bugbee a lot the past year or so.) Someone told me recently that he had mentioned MMP to Michael Fried and that Fried reported that he and Cavell had early on been reading MMP together (at least that is how I remember the story.) Do you know much or anything about Bugbee and Cavell? Did they overlap at Harvard?

    • Cavell and Bugbee overlapped at Harvard about ’50-’57. Both loved Thoreau. Henry assigned Lear and Hamlet in his “Philosophy of Man” Harvard undergraduate class. Cavell had already done music for Lear at Berkeley as an undergraduate.
      Bugbee remembered Cavell fondly; Stanley gave a Henry Bugbee memorial lecture in Montana (I believe in the ’90s).
      Cavell met me in New Mexico 10 years ago and offered to write an essay on Bugbee for the collection on him I put together called Wilderness and The Heart.
      Bugbee was denied tenure at Harvard because he refused to write essays (too self-assertive and argument-driven) and thought philosophy ought to be more like poetry, or in the evocative, reflective mode of Emerson or Thoreau or Marcel. He called Stanley “my student” ; Bert Dreyfus might be one to consult here. Bert was a TA for Henry. Stanley has said quite recently that he was not a student, but that he admired Henry.

  2. only what’s in the intro to the paperback edition of ‘the inward morning’—which i think says that cavell was a student of bugbee’s (for some duration, in some capacity). i think there might be a paper or two on jstor that discusses the connection, but based on what i’ve seen there may not be much to go on.

    • I have found little. I have also had a tricky time pinning down the dates in the 50’s when Cavell would’ve been Bugbee’s student. Assuming he was, Cavell’s never mentioning Bugbee (at least to my recollection) is puzzling. (Does he mention him? I am sure he doesn’t in the recent autobiography, unless mention of him slipped past me and the indexer.)

      • i have an electronic copy, ‘bugbee’ is nowhere in the text.

        have you looked in the book of interviews (giovanna borradori) that mooney cites in his intro to ‘inward morning’? i think i must have read it, but don’t remember cavell mentioning bugbee; he doesn’t show up in a google books search either. the claim that cavell was a student is mooney’s; i wonder how he knows. maybe it’s a claim he makes on the basis of some fact he found out about (cavell sat in a course) but whose relevance he is insisting on for his own purposes. i’m certainly not cavell but i wouldn’t necessarily make anything of every single teacher i took a course from, even if by rights one would think they were ‘influential’ on me. still, odd.

        i would not even be surprised if the claim were false but made since the diary format that ‘morning’ shares with part four of ‘claim of reason’, the thoreau and emerson affinities, and the biographical overlaps (?), make it seem like it MUST be true.

      • Good. I would like to know Mooney’s source too. I agree with you that Cavell need not make anything of every single teacher he took a course from. But given the avalanche of names in the autobiography and Cavell’s general practice (there and everywhere) of trying to mention everyone, it seems odd that Bugbee would’ve been left off all the lists. Thanks for checking your electronic copy for me!

  3. actually, i also asked mooney last night after my previous post. it seems that the evidence is conflicting and inconclusive, although among other things bugbee said once that cavell was a student (and cavell said once to a colleague that he was not a student). it seems cavell retained more of an interest in bugbee than his record of publication shows, but it never made it all the way to print. otherwise some of the internal evidence is as you would expect (thoreau), and as you’ve noticed (like ‘availability’).

  4. Two things: to the best of my recollection, Stanley Cavell & I never read Merleau-Ponty together. I had read Merleau-Ponty (mainly the essays “on” painting) when I was in England (1959-62), & was full of him when I arrived at Harvard. I also made use of him in my earliest essay on Anthony Caro, which Stanley read shortly after I wrote it. Whether Stanley himself read M-P during those years, or later for that matter, I can’t say.

    As for Bugbee, Stanley & I spent vast amounts of time during my years at Harvard talking about all sorts of things, including teachers who had mattered to us, & the name Bugbee never once came up.

    • Thanks! The person who told me the story about you, Cavell and MMP either got it wrong or I misremembered. (The latter is more likely.) And it does seem odd to me, given Cavell’s usual practice of mentioning his teachers that mattered to him, that Bugbee would never come up if he had been among them. At any rate, I do wonder about Cavell’s awareness of this notion of Marcel’s. Again, thanks!

      • Bugbee loved Marcel, visited him in France, brought him out West to Montana, and of course picked up the idea of availability from him. When Marcel came to Harvard to give a set of lectures he assumed Bugbee was a well-known figure.
        He referred several times — to the chagrin of the philosophy department who had just voted to let him go — of “The Great American Philosopher, hen-RI, bug-BEE”.
        What makes Cavell’s silence about Bugbee poignant is that Bugbee stood for philosophy as literary & ‘religious’ and a way of life, and put his job on the line — and lost it. Some of his colleagues were in tears.
        At his departure. Quine called him (in print) “the greatest living exemplar of the Socratic life.” [See his short tribute at the start of Wilderness and the Heart.]
        But Bugbee was an extinguished star. Could that be a strand in the strange silence?

      • Thanks much! I am very glad to have found my way to Bugbee–and I deeply appreciate the work you have done on him. He shouldn’t be forgotten. I haven’t yet gotten to read *Wllderness and the Heart*; I expect a copy in the mail today, in fact. It would’ve been, would be great to have had, have an essay by Cavell on Bugbee.

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