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Weissman Center for Leadership  

Artists, Intellectuals, and World War II: The Pontigny Encounters at Mount Holyoke College: Keynote Address by Stanley Cavell with an Introduction by Professor Christopher Benfey
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 Stanley Cavell

Stanley Cavell, Emeritus Professor of philosophy at Harvard University, delivered the keynote address at the Pontigny Symposium held November 7, 2003, at Mount Holyoke College.

Past President of the American Philosophical Association and a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, Cavell is the Walter M. Cabot Professor Emeritus of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard. In his Mount Holyoke address, Cavell, discussed poets Wallace Stevens and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Cavell spoke about the conflicts that emerged in the literary works of both Stevens and Emerson. He connected the two poets with a philosophical critique of their works and offered insights into issues raised by their writings Cavell paid close attention to Stevens' The Figure of the Youth as Virile Youth from The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination (1951), a literary work that Stevens read at the Pontigny-en-Amerique encounters in 1943.

Cavell responded to some of the questions Stevens posed at the original Pontigny colloquia regarding poetry as a form of resistance, the role of the imagination, and the relationship between philosophy and poetry.

In his 1943 Pontigny-en-Amerique presentation Stevens posed a question to the gathering about the role of art. Christopher Benfey, professor of English and co-director of the Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts, observed that 60 years later, Stevens finally received an answer to this question "in a wonderfully eloquent response from the Harvard philosopher Stanley Cavell."

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