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Professorial personae

April 1, 2015

Stanley Cavell. b. 1926. Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value (Emeritus), Harvard University.


Geoffrey Hill. b. 1932. Professor of Poetry, Oxford University.

After finishing my slog through Geoffrey Hill’s Collected Critical Writings, I find myself wondering whether I ought next to work my way back through Stanley Cavell’s various literature-related writings (and perhaps pick up a few of those I haven’t yet read).

It turns out, then, that there’s a decent chance at least part of my dissertation will attempt to pit these two against each other.

It make sense given my project. Both struggle endlessly with the very possibility of an authentic relationship to something as impersonal as a public language.

And reflecting on their professional personae makes it difficult to resist. One could write an interpretive essay comparing their authorial portraits. Both with closely cropped facial hair, but Cavell’s neat and round, Hill’s pointed and a bit wild. (These pictures are from several years ago, and he now has a full wizard beard; Cavell is clean-shaven.) Both heads crowned with an massive bald dome, but again, Cavell’s more curved, Hill’s more angular. Cavell, eyes down, authentically absorbed in his own thoughts; Hill, staring angrily forward, alienating whoever returns his gaze.

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