The fear of a poisoned world is being increasingly pressed, debated, debunked, and reiterated from many disciplinary vantage points: medicine, political science, history, sociology, economics, and ethics among others. Seldom however is toxicity discussed as a discourse. This essay aims to define the forms, origins, uses, and critical implications of toxic rhetoric, conceiving it as an interlocked set of topoi whose force derives partly from the exigencies of an anxiously industrializing culture, partly from deeper-rooted Western attitudes. In order to make this analysis pointed and manageable, and not to outrun the limits of my knowledge, I shall focus on the United States, although many of my points apply to Anglophone settler cultures worldwide, if not also to other regions (and few remain untouched) influenced by Western environmental institutions.
Lawrence Buell, the John P. Marquand Professor of English at Harvard University, is the author of New England Literary Culture (1986) and The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture (1995) among other works. His current projects include a book in progress entitled The Work of Imagination in an Endangered World.
Following Walter Benjamin's lead in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Saul Friedlander wonders whether all historical interpretation is somehow fraught with redemptory potential. By extension, he asks whether the very act of writing Holocaust history might also redeem these events with meaning. Though as a historian Friedlander questions the adequacy of ironic and experimental responses to the Holocaust, insofar as he fears that their transgressiveness undercuts any and all meaning, he also suggests that a postmodern aesthetics might “accentuate the dilemmas” of historytelling.1 Even in Friedlander's terms, this is not a bad thing: an aesthetics that remarks its own limitations, its inability to provide eternal answers and stable meaning. In short, he issues a narrow call for an aesthetics that devotes itself primarily to the dilemmas of representation, an “uncanny” history of the Holocaust that sustains uncertainty and allowed us to live without a full understanding of events.
· 1. Saul Friedlander, Memory, History, and the Extermination of the Jews of Europe (Bloomington, Ind., 1993), pp.61, 55.
James E. Young is professor of English and Judaic studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is the author of Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust (1988) and The Texture of Memory (1993) and editor of The Art of Memory (1994), the catalog for an exhibition of the same name he curated at the Jewish Museum in New York (1994). This current essay is drawn from a forthcoming book, After-Image: The Uncanny Arts of Holocaust Memory.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a book on the treatment of insanity appeared, the analyses and prescriptions of which would help establish psychiatry as a modern discipline in Germany. The book was highly original and, even to an eye accustomed to the depths and shallows of the period, quite extraordinary. Consider, for example, the author's recommendation for treating a patient who, in constant reverie, could not fix attention on relevant external objects: the dreamer should be forced to listen to a piece played on a Katzenclavier—a cat-piano (fig. 1). One would first voice the instrument with suitable animals, which would then
be arranged in a row with their tails stretched behind them. And a keyboard fitted out with sharpened nails would be set over them. The struck cats would provide the sound. A fugue played on this instrument—when the ill person is so placed that he cannot miss the expressions on their faces and the play of these animals—must bring Lot's wife herself from her fixed state into conscious awareness.1
· 1. Johann Christian Reil, Rhapsodieen über die Anwendung der psychischen Curmethode auf Geisteszerrüttungen (Halle, 1803), p. 205; hereafter abbreviated RU.
Robert J. Richards is professor of history, philosophy, and psychology at the University of Chicago. He is currently working on a book entitled Romantic Biology: From Goethe to the Last Romantic, Ernst Haeckel. His most recent book is The Meaning of Evolution: The Morphological Construction and Ideological Reconstruction of Darwin's Theory (1992).
Whatever psychological significance Memoirs of My Nervous Illness may have, from a literary-discursive point of view it is one of the most challenging texts of the century. Read as such, and in terms of its incongruence with our usual psychological assumptions, it reveals the way in which various discursive strategies facilitate psychological description and interpretation. I am suggesting that that which we declare to be “psychological” is in fact a historically contingent “placement” of discursive strategies that are at other times and in other cultures “located” in other realms—the demonic, for instance—which may be coordinate with other social arrangements.5 Psychodynamic processes postulated by psychoanalysis such as condensation, displacement, transference, and the mechanisms of defense, can be understood as metadiscursive figures for discursive strategies that are expressed metaphorically in psychological terms. Schreber's failure to find an “appropriate” location for these strategies underscores their discursive nature and the contingency of their metadiscursive representation—a contingency that is lost to those who insist upon reducing them to the psychological.6
· 5. See Vincent Crapanzano, Hermes' Dilemma and Hamlet's Desire: On the Epistemology of Interpretation (Cambridge, Mass., 1992), especially the introduction and chaps. 4 and 5.
· 6. I acknowledge the determinacy of my own stress on the discursive.
Vincent Crapanzano teaches anthropology and comparative literature at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. His latest book is Hermes' Dilemma and Hamlet's Desire: On the Epistemology of Interpretation (1992).
This essay is an attempt to reconsider what vision of—that is, what discourse on—Buddhist icons is possible for a Westerner (or Westernized Asian). Buddhist icons have been essentially the domain, or rather the preserve, of art historians. But Buddhist art, if there is such a thing, is perhaps too important to be left to art historians alone. Is there a Buddhist “art,” a subcategory of Asian art, itself a rubric within world art, one among many rooms in André Malraux's famous “musée imaginaire”? Or are we not dealing primarily with Buddhist images, whose artistic value is at best derivative? Even though art history is beginning to take a broader, even anthropological, perspective with regard to Western images and visual culture, it is still necessary in the Asian context to shift the focus from traditional concerns about the history and aesthetics of art to the history, affect, and function of ritual images or icons. Even if we want to retain the notion of aesthetics value, to the extent that a narrow aestheticism precludes our understanding of the anthropological and phenomenological dimensions of Buddhist icons, we must question this emphasis on the aesthetic object. I want to focus precisely on the vision of icons, on the asymmetrical exchange of glances that characterizes icon worship. I have elsewhere examined the various techniques of animation of the Buddhist icon. Because they are, in a manner, alive, and not simply dead representations, these icons are images of power. However, this obvious point—perhaps because it is obvious in the etymological sense (“lying in the way”; hence preventing, making an obstacle)—has until recently been largely ignored by art historians, especially in studying Buddhist images. The notion of animated Buddhist icons has been repressed as a result of the modern and Wester values of aestheticization, desacralization, and secularization. This situation, however, is beginning to change. In order to counteract this repression, I will take some of my cues from the recent work done by certain historians and from critiques of Western art in the wake of Walter Benjamin.
Bernard Faure is professor of religious studies at Stanford University. He is the author of The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Chan/Zen Buddhism (1991), Chan Insights and Oversights: An Epistemological Critique of the Chan Tradition (1993), Visions of Power: Imagining Medieval Japanese Buddhism (1996), and The Will to Orthodoxy: A Critical Genealogy of Northern Chan Buddhism (1997).
The Mont Sainte-Victoire works produced in the last four years of Cézanne's life were realized in watercolor and pencil and oils. These final works charge forward and open out, or open up, to a certain furious animation of surface—a surface ruptured with a pulsation of marks that tend not so much to elide as to ignore the code of resemblance; see, for example, Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Les Lauves (fig. 1); or the work from the same series on the Kunstmuseum in Basel. It is as though such marks and such a surface were generating a space that was moving into a different, yet-to-be-named space, one that hovered at the edge of resemblance. Formed of a sediment of touches, this space and these marks lift into the rush of a charged field of forces. What name is there for this so-called sky that transmutes with so little transition into this so-called mountain? What name is there for this faceted skein of marks that fall now like a veil and now like a wall below a horizon that is itself permeable to a surge and flow between top and bottom, not to mention the suggestion of far as near and near as far? What name is there for this hallucinated compression of the proximal and the distal that would tilt up a space not so much everywhere equidistant to vision as one converted/confined/released/bound over to an oxymoronic zone of a haptic coloration? What sort of space has the capacity to both hover and yet anchor itself to a surface? (Surely that grotesque, clanking grid leaning in the art historical corner is a far too rusty and Procrustean bed on which to stretch these works.)
Robert Morris is an artist who occasionally writes. His collection of essays, Continuous Project, Altered Daily, appeared in 1994. His “Professional Rules” appeared in Critical Inquiry (Winter 1997).
In his essay “Lanzmann's Shoah: 'Here There Is No Why'” (Critical Inquiry 23 [Winter 1997]: 231-69), Dominick LaCapra states that one of his aims is to disengage Shoah from Claude Lanzmann's understanding of it and open the film up to other kinds of readings. He is also critical of the tendency of others to use Lanzmann's views to validate or illustrate a particular interpretation of the film. LaCapra brings out a number of important issues concerning Lanzmann's role as an interviewer, filmmaker, and public artist. Yet, paradoxically, the author becomes so involved with the analysis of Lanzmann's writings, statements, and even his personality that he is unable to separate them from the actual film. LaCapra analyzes the film's strategies and a number of important scenes not in terms of their cinematic effects but rather as indices of Lanzmann's psychology and his relationship to the events of the Holocaust.
Ora Gelley is a doctoral candidate in the English department at the University of Chicago.
In her response to my essay, Ora Gelley raises objections to my reading of Lanzmann's Shoah based largely on the claim that I pay insufficient attention to “the film's aesthetics and structure” and do precisely the opposite of what I intended, “that is, to disengage it from Lanzmann's self-understanding” (pp. 832, 833). One of my basic points in the essay was to argue that presumably “aesthetic” readings of the film (such as Gertrud Koch's) follow closely Lanzmann's self-understanding and that one might begin to disengage the film from that self-understanding by delineating its full dimensions and implications. Gelley's objections may not disengage the film from Lanzmann's self-understanding but once again, in the name of the aesthetic, replicate and reinforce it.
Dominick LaCapra is a professor of history, the Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor of Humanistic Studies, and the director of the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University. His most recent book is History and Memory after Auschwitz.