Cavell- Now, Voyager

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UgI BucIIing, Funn BullevJI Belle Bavis and Nov, VoagevAulIov|s) SlanIe CaveIIBevieved vovI|s)Souvce CvilicaI Inquiv, VoI. 16, No. 2 |Winlev, 1990), pp. 213-247FuIIisIed I The University of Chicago PressSlaIIe UBL .Accessed 20/01/2012 1019Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact University of Chicago Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to CriticalInquiry.http://www.jstor.orgUgly Duckling, Funny Butterfly: Bette Davis and Now, Voyager followed by Postscript (1989): To Whom It May Concern Stanley Cavell This is the third main installment of a project to define a genre or two of film perspicuously enough to let them figure as explicitly and spe- cifically in thinking about philosophical skepticism as I feel they do implicitly and generally.' In a piece I place as a postscript to this in- 1. The two previous published installments are, on Letter from an Unknown Woman, "Psychoanalysis and Cinema: The Melodrama of the Unknown Woman," in The Trial(s) of Psychoanalysis, ed. FranCoise Meltzer (Chicago, 1988), pp. 227-58; and, on Gaslight, "Naughty Orators," in Languages of the Unsayable, ed. Sanford Budick and Wolfgang Iser (New York, 1989), pp. 340-77. Earlier versions of the present material on Now, Voyager were presented as follows: on 10 November 1984, under the title "Two Cheers for Romance," to a conference sponsored by the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center, pub- lished under the conference's title, Passionate Attachments: Thinking about Love, ed. Wil- lard Gaylin and Ethel Person (New York, 1988), pp. 85-100; under the title "The Melodrama of the Unknown Woman" as part of a lecture series on film at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, organized by Inez Hedges; then at the University of New Mex- ico, Rutgers University, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and, in May 1987, at the University of Chicago, where it was the third of my three Frederick Ives Carpenter Lectures. (The first two Carpenter Lectures, on Ludwig Wittgenstein and on Ralph Waldo Emerson, expanded and with an introduction, constitute This New Yet Unap- proachable America: Lectures after Emerson after Wittgenstein [Albuquerque, N. Mex., 1989].) The material, as part of sketching out the genre of the unknown woman melo- drama, was broached in a course on film given under the auspices of General Education at Harvard in the spring of 1984, for which Marian Keane, Nickolas Pappas, and Charles Warren were the teaching fellows. Beyond their attention to discussion sections and to the management of the complex logistics of the course, their comments, at our weekly staff meetings, on my lectures, and on the students' grasp of them characteristi- cally entered into my subsequent lectures; I am grateful to them, now as then. The pub- Critical Inquiry 16 (Winter 1990) ? 1990 by The University of Chicago. 0093-1896/90/1602-0003$01.00. All rights reserved. 213 214 Stanley Cavell Bette Davis and Now, Voyager stallment, which has outrun what it follows, I begin a response, impro- vised in tone as in circumstance, to work that has appeared since my project began, specifically to two essays I have just read concerning, let's say, gender, or sexual identity, that I want to respond to at once, that is to say, in interference with the present installment. In this busi- ness, business is never usual. Other members of the genre of the melodrama of the unknown woman, besides the one that guides the present discussion, Now, Voy- ager (directed by Irving Rapper, with, besides Bette Davis, Claude Rains and Paul Henreid; 1942), like it in being produced in Holly- wood between the early 1930s and the late 1940s, are Blonde Venus (directed by Josef von Sternberg, with Marlene Dietrich, Herbert Marshall, and the young Cary Grant; 1932), Stella Dallas (directed by King Vidor, with Barbara Stanwyck and John Boles; 1937), Gaslight (directed by George Cukor, with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer; 1944), and Letter from an Unknown Woman (directed by Max Ophuls, with Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan; 1948). It is a grouping of films that was in effect predicted by the work I did in putting out Pursuits of Happiness, which consists of seven chapters, each of which is about a Hollywood comedy made in those same years.2 I call the genre of that group the comedy of remarriage, and I trace out certain unpredicta- bly extensive circumstances and consequences of the fact that these comedies feature a pair whose problem is not to get together but to get together again, a problem not of finding the one you know you are made for but of knowing the one you have found is the one you are made for. You would think that a structure in which a pair begin lic occasions on which I delivered selections of the present material also unfailingly yielded prompting questions and suggestions: I single out those of Inez Hedges at the Boston Museum film lecture series; of Miriam Hansen at Rutgers; of Gus Blaisdell and Ira Jaffe at New Mexico; and those of the late Gerald Mast at Chicago. I am, not for the first time, indebted to James Conant and to Arnold Davidson for careful readings, both of this essay and of "Postscript (1989)," which produced numbers of suggestions for me that I have been glad to incorporate. A late reading by Marian Keane produced an ad- ditional, critical articulation. A special word of thanks is due to W. J. T. Mitchell for his encouragement of this work in progress and of the larger project of which it is part, represented by its appearance as a Carpenter Lecture. Photos: Candace Mirza. @ 1942 Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. Ren. 1969 United Artists Television Inc. 2. See Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage (Cam- bridge, 1981). Stanley Cavell is the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University. His most recent works include In Quest of the Ordinary: Lines of Skepticism and Romanti- cism (1989), This New Yet Unapproachable America (1989), and Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome (forthcoming). Critical Inquiry Winter 1990 215 or climax by seeking a divorce and then get back together would not necessarily change many matters from the classical comedy in which an always younger pair overcome more or less external obstacles (typi- cally a father) and wind up for the first time in something called mar- riage; but it turns out to necessitate no end of change. What I mean by saying that the genre of remarriage "predicts" the genre of the unknown woman is this: Pursuits of Happiness claims that it is the na- ture of a genre that when its defining features are negated systemati- cally by other films then those other films form an adjacent or derived genre. But while I note there that the remarriage comedies are each invaded by melodramatic moments, I could not for some years there- after locate a grouping of films that participate in a systematic nega- tion of the remarriage features. It is my general claim that this is what produces the shape and texture of the melodramas of the unknown woman. The process I take as "deriving" the melodrama of the un- known woman by "negation" from the comedy of remarriage is open and closed-open in the wish to be taken as speaking provisionally, closed in the wish not to be taken as speaking about all film comedy (precisely not of everything called "screwball comedy," which is, at most, not a genre in the same mode as remarriage comedy) and not of all film melodrama (and precisely not of everything called "the wom- an's film").3 One quality of the remarriage comedies is that, for all their ingra- tiating manners, and for all the ways in which they are among the most beloved of Hollywood films, a moral cloud remains at the end of each of them. And that moral cloud has to do with what is best about them. What is best are the conversations that go on in them, where conversation means of course talk, but means also an entire life of inti- mate exchange between the principal pair. We are bound to remem- ber from these films, even years after viewing them, something of their sound: of conversation between Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth, or between Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, or Grant and Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, or those two together with James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story, or between Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Adam's Rib. We feel that these people know one another, and they know how to play together (know and ac- cept, you may say, the role of theater in their mutuality) in a way to make one happy and hope for the best. But the moral cloud has to do with what that conversation is meant to do, and what I say about those films is that the conversation is in service of the woman's sense of her- self as in need of an education. Importantly for that reason, I