Espen Dahl cites Cavell on a register of passionate speech that verges on prophecy, or madness. In such moments speech seems at the limits, inordinate, vastly profound, vastly ungluing, vastly elusive. It is speech that seems addressed “to all and no one” (as Nietzsche famously imagines his audience at the start of Zarathustra). Here is Cavell, from his essay “Companionable Thinking”:
the right to enter such a claim universally […], has roughly the logic of a voice in the wilderness, crying out news that may be known (inordinately) to virtually none, but to all virtually. It is a voice invoking a religious, not alone a philosophical, register: it is uninvited, it goes beyond an appeal to experiences we can assume all humans share, or recognize, and it is meant to instill belief and a commentary and community based on belief, yielding a very particular form of passionate utterance, call it prophecy.
This quote, especially the opening sentence, invites (shall we say softly) comment or paraphrase. […], has roughly the logic of a voice in the wilderness, crying out news that may be known (inordinately) to virtually none, but to all virtually.” Let me try to unravel.
- “the right to enter such a claim universally” — I take Cavell’s invocation of a ‘claim to universality’ in this sort of speech to be an instance of the sort of claim Kant finds in aesthetic judgment. It’s my invitation for all to consider my claim. I exclude no one, and hence offer a universal invitation. Whether it earns universal assent is another matter.
- “news that may be known (inordinately)” — Cavell’s mention of inordinate knowing must mean that in this sort of passionate speech I cry out news that is known (if it is) outside ordinary coordinates of knowledge and intelligibility. The reality I invoke in crying out is off the chart, off the grid of ordinary exchange – as in knowing something is terribly wrong but finding the right-wrong coordinates for such knowledge terribly elusive, and fearing that I may be alone in seeing something terribly wrong screaming before my eyes.
- “may be known (inordinately) to virtually none, but to all virtually.” — Leave out the “virtual” and we have something known to none and all. Nietzsche addresses all and no one. I am off the usual grids, and so perhaps the reality I sense and cry out is “virtual.” Would this mean imagined, powerful, inescapable, seemingly not only imagined, first-personally? I can have wild ‘mood swings’ between imagining that my target audience is virtually none, I’ll be utterly dismissed, or scorned, or only raise eyebrows of bewilderment – and on the other hand, imagining simultaneously that what I cry out can’t help but be heard by all, is inescapably true.
Does thinking and writing in philosophy (and the humanities) err if it strays into this domain of passionate speech, of prophecy — of “inordinate knowledge”?
[Dahl’s essay is “Seeing wonders and the wonder of seeing: Religion at the borders of the ordinary”]