Cavell’s Romanticism and the Autobiographical Animal

This essay discusses the implications of Cavell’s performative act to “confess” a Romantic attitude toward the claims of experience. “To be interested [. . .] in the costs of knowing to the knowing creature, I suppose one will have to take an interest in certain preoccupations of romanticism,” Cavell admits near the end of the second part of The Claim of Reason (242). I read Cavell’s habitual sense of Romanticism, in the languages of economic exchange and animal life, as “the cost of knowing to the knowing creature.” The last half of this essay discusses Cavell’s complex, sometimes prickly relationship with Jacques Derrida and the relation of both to autobiographical modes of Romanticism. Cavell’s topic, I argue, is the “recall,” his reclaiming, via Romantic poetry as well as through so much else, of what it means to be responsive to the human animal by other standards besides a rehearsal of self-possession in our measures of knowledge.