A recurring complaint among critics of the Enlightenment is about a complacence in the rough and cumulative consensus that has emerged in modern Western thought of the last two centuries and a half. The complaint is misplaced. There has, in fact, always been a detectably edgy and brittle quality in the prideful use of omnibus terms such as modernity and the Enlightenment to self‐describe the West's claim to being something more than a geographical location. One sign of this nervousness is a quickness to find a germ of irrationality in any source of radical criticism of the consensus. From quite early on, the strategy has been to tarnish the opposition as being poised in a perpetual ambiguity between radicalism and irrationalism (including sometimes an irrationalism that encourages a fascist, or incipiently fascist, authoritarianism).
Akeel Bilgrami is the Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and the director of the Heyman Center for the Humanities. He is the author of Belief and Meaning (1992), Self‐Knowledge and Resentment (2006), and Politics and the Moral Psychology of Identity (forthcoming).
Philosophy, in the end, eludes the custody of the court that would try it, but it would be a mistake to conclude that, for this reason, it completely concealed itself before it. One may even assert the contrary: the very movement by which the art of arts retreats from the Law exposes it before it. For philosophy, as the Arabic and Hebrew philosophers of the Middle Ages knew well, is nothing if not the attempt to define that element over which the Law has no hold, which stands before the Law and simultaneously exceeds its grasp. Philosophy constitutes less a doctrine of judgment than a science of its limits, and, in evading the sentences imposed upon it the ancient practice pays homage to the object of its art. Summoned before the Law, wisdom can no better represent itself than in the step by which it moves away from it; it can no better show itself before the Law than by the veil by which it covers its face before it. Accused by the Law without being seen by it, called to court without being truly named by it, philosophy here renders itself adequate to its own prime matter, which destines it, by necessity, to stand in conflict with the legal powers of its age.
See also: Ronald Dworkin, Law as Interpretation
Daniel Heller‐Roazen is professor of comparative literature at Princeton University. He is the author of Fortune's Faces: The “Roman de la Rose” and the Poetics of Contingency (2003) and Echolalias: On the Forgetting of Language (2005), as well as the editor and translator of Giorgio Agamben's Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy (1999). His forthcoming book is entitled The Inner Touch: Archaeology of a Sensation, and he is currently preparing a critical edition of The Arabian Nights.
In this essay, I am not going to offer a theory for new media so much as argue for the continuing value of classical theories of photography and film. They provide a needed corrective to recent theories by emphasizing the productive tension between the form in which an artist expresses subject matter and the kind of thing an image is, between style and ontology. To make this case, I will take a careful look at the important work of André Bazin, whose intelligence and insight in grappling with the difficult problems of style and ontology has been misunderstood and therefore mostly rejected.
Daniel Morgan is a graduate student in the Committee on Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. He is currently working on a dissertation on Jean‐Luc Godard's films of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Perfect repetition is impossible in live art performances, but its approximation remains indispensable. A sense of repetition in the performance of everyday life is even more indispensable; nothing else could make our form of life intelligible. Going on in the same way demonstrates our trust in the world beyond ourselves, a world similarly marked by constancy and rule following. Despite its wayward tendencies, a well‐maintained fantasy life is necessary as well. Like the second leg that lets us walk, the second life of fantasy works in tandem with our foothold in the everyday world. An unexpected slipperiness threatens our movement and “our touch with the world,” however, when this second life of idealizations and wayward imaginings becomes confused with the everyday world to which we are also answerable. A 1931 ballad offered a reassuring promise of steady forward movement when it repeatedly concluded, against countervailing evidence from science and society alike, that “the fundamental things apply, as time goes by.” The “fundamental things” in matters of courtship and love, the lyrics promised, lie in clinging to beliefs about the lawlike character of romantic destiny. The song would have been forgotten had it not been for the immensely popular war film to which it has since been tethered. In that context, one consoling fantasy swirled together with another as Hollywood reinscribed “the fundamental things” of rule following, love, and destiny on behalf of the music of war.
Paul Allen Anderson is an assistant professor in the program in American culture and the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan. He is author of Deep River: Music and Memory in Harlem Renaissance Thought (2001). He is currently working on a book about the dream life of American jazz, Hearing Loss, from which this essay is drawn.
The purpose of this essay, however, is not to resurrect the ghost of Marshal McLuhan or reiterate the familiar argument about the transformative powers of cybernetic technology and multimedia in modern society that Joyce had intuited and predicted decades ago. I am interested in exploring whether the perceived entanglements between literature and technoscience can promise a new understanding of the nature and function of the phonetic alphabet and alphabetical writing. What insights or implications, if any, can we glean from contemporary biocybernetic developments that may help us rethink literary theory and make it truly relevant to the task of interpreting social life, text, and machine from the ground up, which is to say, from the basic building blocks of literacy? When Roman Jakobson applied Claude Elwood Shannon's information theory to the structural study of language and poetics, for example, he introduced a curious slippage between the syllable and the signal and an isomorphism between meter and frequency. In contrast, Shannon himself had chosen to work on the letters of Printed English while preparing his pathbreaking mathematical theory of communication. His work involved a calculation and comparison of redundancy and entropy rates of English letters and words, including samples from Basic English, Finnegans Wake, and other works, using statistical rather than phonemic parameters. Did Shannon and Jakobson conceive of the phonetic alphabet and its relationship to language differently? How did the slippages occur?
Lydia H. Liu is professor of comparative literature and Helmut F. Stern Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of The Clash of Empires (2004) and Translingual Practice (1995). She is currently finishing a book on literary theory and the biocybernetic imagination.
The French and Dutch no to the project of a European constitution was a clear‐cut case of what in “French theory” is referred to as a floating signifier: a no of confused, inconsistent, overdetermined meanings, a kind of container in which the defense of workers’ rights coexists with racism, in which the blind reaction to a perceived threat and fear of change coexist with vague utopian hopes. We are told that the no was really a no to many other things: to Anglo‐Saxon neoliberalism, to Chirac and the present French government, to the influx of immigrant workers from Poland who lower the wages of French workers, and so on. The real struggle is going on now: the struggle for the meaning of this no—who will appropriate it? Who—if anyone—will translate it into a coherent alternate political vision?
Slavoj Žižek, psychoanalyst and dialectical‐materialist philosopher, is codirector of the International Center for the Humanities, University of London. His most recent book is entitled The Parallax View (2006).