How can we understand the common logic that sustains, within the aesthetic regime of art, ideas of art and beauty that seem to stand in absolute contrast: beauty as an object of disinterested satisfaction and beauty as the adaptation of a thing to its function; art as a practice defined by its own ends and art as a practice whose destination is to become one with prosaic life. My contention is that life is the notion that is allowed to overcome those contradictions by bridging the gap between the varying and contrasting ideas of finality that art carries out. Life or—more precisely—a certain idea of life. This idea of life, proper to the aesthetic regime of art, works by disconnecting and rearranging the relations between the notions at play in the definition of the ends of art and the criteria of beauty; it disconnects the power of the form from the implementation of a concept, the appearance of the beautiful from the perfection of an organism and the use of a thing from its utility. Those disconnections and rearrangements create the unity between two apparently incompatible ideas of the relation between life and art—life as the inner power animating the autonomous mode of being of the beautiful and life as the external reality to the ends of which art must be subdued. However this unity of life and art, which is a unity of life and life, is manifested through a specific separation. It always presupposes a lack or a supplement, something that is aside, imperfect, supplementary, useless, or endless. Let us call it the aesthetic separation.
In the long, long history of theaters of memory, cinema—and everything in its wake—retains a special privilege. As it inscribes images—and consequently their inevitable and necessary oblivion—in time, it presupposes their recollection, under conditions that are partly unknown. One day, perhaps, we will discover how this three-level arrangement of the apprehension, forgetting, and unpredictable return of images obeys the still-obscure relationship that Antonio Damasio (as well as other researchers using different terms) postulated between "image space" and "dispositional space." The first concerns the continuum from perception to mental representations; the second, eternally latent, forms cerebral archives consisting of "abstract records of potentialities." The image that came to Damasio to describe these unconscious dispositions is that of "the town of Brigadoon waiting to come alive for a brief period."
What does form explain? More often than not, when it comes to literary criticism, form explains everything. Where form refers "to elements of a verbal composition," including "rhythm, meter, structure, diction, imagery," it distinguishes ordinary from figurative utterance and thereby defines the literary per se. Where form refers to the disposition of those elements such that the work of which they are a part mimes a "symbolic resolution to a concrete historical situation," it distinguishes real from virtual phenomena and thereby defines the task of criticism as their ongoing adjudication. Both forensic and exculpatory in their promise, form’s explanations have been applied to circumstances widely disparate in scale, character, and significance. This is nothing new, but a recent flurry of debates identifying new varieties of form has thrown the unruliness of its application into relief. Taken together, they suggest that to give an account of form is to contribute to the work of making sense of linguistic meaning, aesthetic production, class struggle, objecthood, crises in the humanities and of the planet, how we read, why we read, and what’s wrong with these queries of how and why. In this context, form explains what we cannot: what’s the point of us at all?
Is there any cultural haven from the onrush of globalization? Poetry may be it, according to the statement of purpose for Windfall: A Journal of Poetry of Place:
Against the current tide of globalization, we posit its opposite, ‘localization.’ . . . Our identity is tied to place: We don't know who we are unless we know where we are. . . . Rootless, detached people are dangerous. On the other hand, sanity happens when people understand that where they are is who they are. . . . A poetry of place is a poetry which values locales, which sees and lets the reader experience what makes a place unique among places.
The editors cite poems such as Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill” and James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” as prototypes, and since 2002 they have published hundreds of other poems of place. They present poetry, when uncorrupted by a “modernist” treatment of “the phenomenal world as though all places were interchangeable,” as uniquely suited to an intimate relation to place, its rooted stability the opposite of the dislocated and deranged mobility of global modernity. To write a poem of place is to ground oneself in a cherished spot that confers and confirms self-knowledge, wholeness, and uniqueness. Although Bruce Robbins doesn’t mention poetry when he discusses the “anticosmopolitan jargon of the authentically particular and the authentically local,” the allure of such ideas about the poetry of place is encapsulated in his remark about “the miniaturizing precision of ‘locality,’ with its associations of presence and uniqueness, empirical concreteness, complete experience, and accessible subjectivity.” Poetry miniaturizes by virtue of its compression, and when this intimate verbal locality is made to stand for the enclave of a physical locality, as mirrored in a fully present and singular subjectivity, and as given voice in a lyric speech-act, the correspondence would seem to provide a stay against the dislocative pressures and gigantic scale of globalization.
Scholars across the humanities and the social sciences detail the effects of neoliberal withdrawal. Their key terms tell all: dispossession and disposability; expulsion and exposure; precarity and social abandonment. While each advances an analytically distinct proposition, each also contributes to a single, powerful image of the failed shepherd, of people left to die. Based on fieldwork in Guatemala City, at the intersection of Christianity and crack cocaine, this essay proposes a competing point of reference for pastoralism today: hunt or be hunted.
Contrasting the German cultural critic Walter Benjamin and the Russian/British historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin as types of Jewish intellectuals requires going beyond conventional political or theoretical categories. Instead, it demands the application of what might be called metaphorical stylistics, in which each is understood to embody one pole of an imagined opposition. The essay introduces several well-known metaphorical pairs—“hedgehog/fox,” “priest/jester,” “pariah/parvenu,” “husband/lover,” as well as several new ones—“gambler/investor” and “producer/rentier”—in the search of a way to capture the salient differences, both biographical and substantive, that set them apart. Although the proximate aim of the essay is to illuminate the appeal each of them have had to different constituencies, its larger goal is to introduce the use of metaphorical stylistics as a tool in understanding our often over-determined attraction to figures and ideas from the past.
Does poetry make thinking happen? This essay examines the relationship between thinking and desire as it revisits the most famous missed connection of Descartes’s Meditations. When the meditator imagines an evil genius whose primary ploy is the fabrication of a world made exclusively to fool him, the meditator’s defense borrows heavily from Petrarch’s playbook. His skepticism taking the form of the blason, the meditator inscribes lyrical seduction – and, with it, a negative poetics – into the story of thought’s liberation from the risk of falsity. This tactic invites further recalibration: what do these poetic inflections have to do with the cogito and that pastime called thinking?