Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry


    • Bridget 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 temper. Yet 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.

    • Andrea 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. In some versions, the common is explicitly opposed to the public, and a shift from the public to the common is 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 specific spatial context in which I propose to discuss the problem of the current and coming articulations of the public and the common is formed by the twin movements of, on the one hand, the urbanization of territory and, on the other, the territorialization of the city. Once we begin to observe the public and the common as ways of composing social territories, we can appreciate that, far from being dichotomous, the public and the common do in fact happen almost at the same time and place. Yet they are not exactly the same thing; they could be better imagined as two points of view on the same matter, and the small yet crucial difference between them is precisely what I urge is in need of conceptualization.

    • Stephen 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.

    • Sarah 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.

    • Hoyt 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.

    • Robert Morris
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    • Tenney Nathanson