Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Winter 2016


Volume 42 Issue 2
    • 235Hoyt Long and Richard Jean So
    • This essay examines how computational forms of reading augment the study of literary style. Using the case of the English-language haiku, we demonstrate how machine learning algorithms can help identify specific stylistic patterns within large bodies of texts. Specifically, we track the diffusion of a haiku style through American poetic modernism and its circulation as a kind of Orientalist meme. We show that by putting computational methods in dialogue with more familiar forms of literary pattern recognition, such as close reading and cultural historicism, we can produce new literary histories through a revised ontology of the literary text.

    • 268Bridget Alsdorf
    • The Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) is best known for his austere interior scenes representing his private apartments in Copenhagen. This essay examines these works through the lens of Søren Kierkegaard’s aesthetics and philosophy of choice in Either/Or: A Fragment of Life (1843), drawing on two sections, in particular, that illuminate the artist’s view of domestic life: “Shadowgraphs” from Part 1 and “The Aesthetic Validity of Marriage” from Part 2. My central argument is that the intense inwardness of Hammershøi’s art is fundamentally philosophical, demonstrating a Kierkegaardian vision of mind that is existential in temperYet contra Kierkegaard these interiors show that visual art can capture something of a person’s inner life as well as the aesthetics of marriage by embracing the repetitive rigor of painting as a medium.

    • 306Andrea Mubi Brighenti
    • Increasingly in recent years, the issue of the common—in its various facets of the common world, the common heritage, the commons, the creative commons, and so forth—has been explored by social theorists. The bestowal of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics to Elinor Ostrom has contributed to a revival of attention to common-pool resources as a viable model of self-organization different from both free-market capitalism and state centralism. The notion of the anthropocene, which social scientists are nowadays borrowing from geologists and ecologists, is one among many names and tags under which the issue of commonality is debated. In some radical variants, as in the texts of Antonio Negri, the common is opposed to the public and a shift from the public to the common is explicitly advocated.In this text, I argue that the public and the common should not be seen as alternative dimensions of social life, much less conceptualized as a dichotomy. The epistemological puzzle I would like to venture into is precisely how to think the articulation of the two dimensions of the public and the common in a subtler and possibly more enriching way. Consequently, in the following discussion I propose to cast a spatial or, better, a territorialist perspective on this issue, according to which the public and the common inhere in the formation and transformation of social territorialities.

    • 339Stephen F. Eisenman
    • The contest for animal rights and protections—including the right not to be killed and eaten and the right to a safe and sustaining environment—is a struggle for power between animals (and their human advocates), and the people who would continue to exploit them. The contest in short, is political, and any salient account of human/animal relations must in large measure be political history. Though the struggle currently appears one-sided, it was not always so. The historical record reveals significant and repeated irruptions from below, including one that occurred at the very dawn of the modern animal rights movement in the 1790s. During that decade, and then briefly again in the years immediately after the Napoleonic wars, an incipient battle was waged between elite Englishmen and domesticated bulls, sheep and pigs (the real "swinish multitude"), with some English Jacobins joined on the side of the latter.  People on both sides assumed that animals possessed a strong measure of what we now call “agency,” an imputation that the science of ethology has validated.

    • 374Sarah Kareem
    • How would the history of computer-generated virtual worlds look different if we located their forerunners not in the realistic fictional worlds of earlier art or media forms such as the novel or cinema, but in skeptical modes of perception in which we interact with the real world as if it were imaginary? In the eighteenth century, David Hume and Joseph Addison characterize philosophical skepticism as a mode of occupying two worlds simultaneously that could be activated anytime and anywhere. Central to the experience of this early example of a “alternate reality” game, which Hume designates “feigning a double existence,” is that the mind shifts between seeing through and looking at the objects before it. These shifts yield a perception of these objects as “flimsy,” that is, alternately transparent and opaque. This very quality, I argue, constitutes a defining feature of the modern conception of second-order worlds. Examining Hume and Addison’s accounts recasts the broader history of fictionality as one of everyday experience as well as specific genres and media and suggests the long history of modes of perception frequently assumed to be unique to the digital age.

    • 395Tenney Nathanson
    • One time back in the day, in New York where I grew up, at the ballet (probably George Balanchine), my friend David, who’s intensely musical but doesn’t like to dance, said yeah, he guessed it was alright, but really he didn’t exactly see the point of a lot of people moving around making illustrations of the music. This had pretty much nothing to do, I realized, with the mostly kinetic registrations that made me a balletomane, feeling the leaps and turns and lifts as if in my body. If you don’t like dance, maybe sports spectatorship (wrong word then) works the same way for you. Anyway that’s basically what I mean by kinetic identification.