Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 1982

Volume 8 Issue 4
    • 609W. J. T. Mitchell
    • The criterion of "arguability" has tended to steer Critical Inquiry away from the kind of pluralism which defines itself as neutral, tolerant eclecticism toward a position which I would call "dialectical pluralism." This sort of pluralism is not content with mere diversity but insists on pushing divergent theories and practices toward confrontation and dialogue. Its aim is not the mere preservation or proliferation of variety but the weeding out of error, the elimination of trivial or marginal contentions, and the clarification of fundamental and irreducible differences. The goal of dialectical pluralism is not liberal toleration of opposing views from a neutral ground but transformation, conversion, or, at least, the kind of communication which clarifies exactly what is at stake in any critical conflict. A good dramatization of Critical Inquiry's editorial ideal would be the dialogue of the devil and angel in Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell, an exchange in which each contestant enters into and criticizes the metaphysics of his contrary and which ends happily with the angel transformed into a devil.

    • 619Michael Fried
    • In the pages that follow I looked closely at two major paintings by Gustave Courbet (1819-77): the After Dinner at Ornans, perhaps begun in the small town of the title (the artist's birthplace) but certainly completed in Paris during the winter of 1848-49; and the Stonebreakers, painted wholly in Ornans just under a year later. The After Dinner and the Stonebreakers are the first in a series of large multifigure compositions--others are the Burial at Ornans (1949-50) and the Peasants of Flagey Returning from the Fair (1850)—that mark not only Courbet's maturity as an artist but his emergence as a disruptive force, almost a one-man wrecking crew, in the cultural politics of his time. They are also those works in which his self-declared identity as a Realist first becomes manifest, and probably the chief concern of the most interesting recent scholarship on Courbet has been to try to decode that epithet in social-historical terms, or at any rate to situate his activity as a painter during the years 1848-55 in the context of the social and political struggles that accompanied the creation of the Second Republic and its subversion by Louis Bonaparte.2 At the core of that tradition, motivating and, as it were, mobilizing it, is the demand that the painter succeed in placing in abeyance the primordial convention that paintings are made to be beheld—that he contrive in one way or another to establish the fiction, the meta-illusion, that the beholder does not exist, that there is no one standing before the picture. From Greuze through Gèricault, this was chiefly to be accomplished in and through the medium of visual drama, that is, by representing figures so deeply absorbed in their actions, emotions, and states of mind and furthermore so efficaciously bound together in a single comprehensive dramatic situation that they would strike one as absolutely immured in the world of the painting and a fortiori as oblivious to the very possibility of being viewed. And one way of describing the crisis that I believe overtook French painting (or this tradition) by the 1820s and '30s is to say that the dramatic as such came more and more to be revealed as inescapably theatrical—that the array of conventions that once had served to establish the meta-illusion of the beholder's nonexistence now seemed merely to attest to his controlling presence.

      1. The present essay is adapted from a book-length study, in progress, of Courbet's art. Recent books and articles emphasizing social and political considerations include Linda Nochlin, Gustave Courbet: A Study of Style and Society (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1963; rpt. New York, 1976); T.J. Clark, "A Bourgeois Dance of Death: Max Buchon on Courbet," Burlington Magazine 111 (April-May 1969): 208-12, 282-89, and Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the Second French Republic, 1848-51 (Greenwich, Conn., 1973); Jack LIndsay, Gustave Courbet: His Life and Art (New York, 1973); Klaus Herding, ed., Realismus als Widerspruch: Die Wirklichkeit in Courbets Malerei (Frankfurt am Main, 1978); Herding, "Les Lutteurs 'détestables': Critique de style, critique sociale," Histoire et critique de l'art 4-5 (1978): 94-122; and James Henry Rubin, Realism and Social Vision in Courbet and Proudhon (Princeton, N.J., 1980).

      2. For an account of the early evolution of that tradition, see my Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1980), as well as the essays on Courbet cited in n. 3.

      Michael Fried, professor of humanities and the history of art at the Johns Hopkins University, is the author of Morris Louis and Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot. He is currently at work on a book on Courbet.

    • 651Robert L. Carringer
    • Though he has worked almost exclusively in collaborative mediums like radio and film, Orson Welles has always tended to think of himself as an individual author. "Any production in any medium is a one-man production," he said to me. On the question of sharing creative responsibility for the works that bear his name, he is deeply ambivalent. His insistence on multiple billings for himself is legendary. As I can well testify, the very mention of the term collaboration at a wrong moment can be enough to send him into a rage. The controversy over who scripted Citizen Kane initiated by Pauline Kael hurt him very deeply. That the wound still festers to this day is evident in the rancor with which he speaks of former associates like John Houseman. Yet in quieter moments he will fully concede how indispensable his principal collaborators have been to him and will openly discuss the nature and extent of their contributions. He is especially full of praise for cinematographers with whom he has worked over the years, such as Gregg Toland, Russell Metty, and, more recently, Gary Graver. On Citizen Kane, he singles out four individuals whom he thinks deserve special recognition: writer Herman Mankiewicz, art director Perry Ferguson, composer Bernard Herrmann, and Toland. Of these, he says, Toland's contribution to the film was the greatest, second in importance only to his own. In this essay I deal with the history and nature of Welles' collaboration with Toland on Citizen Kane—what brought them together, their working relationship, and the characteristics and rationale of the visual plan they created for the film. As we shall see, Toland brought a largely pre-conceived visual plan to Citizen Kanewhich he had been working out in his previous films. Welles accepted Toland's plan so readily because he recognized how dramatically appropriate it was to the story material. Toland's cinematography for Citizen Kane also left a major legacy to Hollywood films of the 1940s.

      Robert L. Carringer, is associate professor of English and cinema studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This essay is excerpted from his book in progress, The Road through Xanadu. His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry was "The Scripts of Citizen Kane" (Winter 1978).

    • 675Jacques Derrida
    • Linguists are becoming more and more interested in the genealogy of linguistics. And in reconstituting the history or prehistory of their science, they are discovering numerous ancestors, sometimes with a certain astonished recognition. Interest in the origin of linguistics is awakened when the problems of the origin of language cease to be proscribed (as they had been from the end of the nineteenth century) and when a certain geneticism—or a certain generativism—comes back into its own. One could show that this is not a chance encounter. This historical activity is no longer elaborated solely at the margins of scientific practice, and its results are already being felt. In particular, we are no longer at the stage of the prejudice according to which linguistics as a science was born of a single "epistemological break"—a concept, called Bachelardian, much used or abused today—and of a break occurring in our immediate vicinity. We no longer think, as does Maurice Grammont, that "everything prior to the nineteenth century, which is not yet linguistics, can be expedited in several lines."1 Noam Chomsky, in an article announcing his Cartesian Linguistics, which presents in its major lines the concept of "generative grammar," states: "My aim here is not to justify the interest of this investigation, nor to describe summarily its procedure, but instead to underline that by a curious detour it takes us back to a tradition of ancient thought, rather than constituting a new departure or a radical innovation in the domain of linguistics and psychology."2

      If we are to set ourselves down in the space of this "curious detour," we could not help encountering the "linguistics" of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. We would have to ask ourselves, then, in what ways Rousseau's reflections on the sign, on language, on the origin of languages, on the relations between speech and writing, and so on announce (but what does "announce" mean here?) what we are so often tempted to consider as the very modernity of linguistic science, that is, modernity as linguistic science, since so many other "human sciences" refer to linguistics as their particular model. And we are all the more encouraged to practice this detour in that Chomsky's major references, in Cartesian Linguistics, are to the Logi cand General and Reasoned Grammar of Port-Royal, works that Rousseau knew well and held in high esteem.3 For example, on several occasions Rousseau cites Duclos' commentary on the General and Reasoned Grammar. The Essay on the Origin of Languages even closes with one of these citations. Thus Rousseau acknowledges his debt.

      1. Maurice Grammont, cited by Noam Chomsky, Cartesian Linguistics (New York, 1966), p. 1.

      2. Chomsky, "De quelques constantes de la théory linguistique," Diogène, no. 51 (1965); my italics. See also Chomsky, Current Issues in Linguistic Theory (The Hague, 1964), p.15 ff. There is an analogous gesture in Jakobson, who refers not only to Peirce and, as does Chomsky, to Humboldt but also to John of Salisbury, to the Stoics, and to Plato's Cratylus: see Jakobson, "A la recherche de l'essence du langage," Diogène, no. 51 (1965).

      3. "I began with some book of philosophy, like the Port-Royal Logic, Locke's Essay, Malebranch, Leibniz, Descartes, etc." (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Oeuvres complètes, vol. 1, Confessions [Paris, 1959], p. 237).

      Jacques Derrida, professor of the history of philosophy at the Ècole Normale Supérieure in Paris, is the author of, among other works, Writing and Difference, Of Grammatology, and Marges de la philosophie, from which the present essay is taken. His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, "The Law of Genre," appeared in the Autumn 1980 issue. Alan Bass, a psychoanalyst, has published essays on deconstruction and psychoanalytic theory and practice.

    • 693Stanley E. Fish
    • In the summer of 1977, as I was preparing to teach Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology to a class at the School of Criticism and Theory in Irvine, a card floated out of the text and presented itself for interpretation. It read:


      Immediately I was faced with an interpretive problem not only in the ordinary and everyday sense of having to determine the meaning and the intention (they are the same thing) of the utterance but in the special sense (or so it might seem) occasioned by the fact that I didn’t know who the author named or, rather, not named by the card was. It might have been Derrida himself whom I had met, but only in passing. Or it might have been Derrida’s translator, Gayatri Spivak whom I had known for some time and who might well have put me on the publisher’s list. Or it might have been the publisher, in this case the Johns Hopkins University Press of whose editorial board I was then a member. In the absence (a key word) of any explicit identification, I found myself a very emblem of the difficulties or infelicities that attend distanced or etiolated communication: unable to proceed because the words were cut off from their anchoring source in a unique and clearly present intention. That is to say, I seemed, in the very moment of my perplexity, to be proving on my pulse the superiority of face-to-face communication, where one can know intentions directly, to communication mediated by the marks of writing and in this case by a writing that materialized without any clues as to its context of origin. It may not have been a message found in a bottle, but it certainly was a message found in a book.

    • 723Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels
    • By "theory" we mean a special project in literary criticism: the attempt to govern interpretations of particular texts by appealing to an account of interpretation in general. The term is sometimes applied to literary subjects with no direct bearing on the interpretation of individual works, such as narratology, stylistics, and prosody. Despite their generality, however, these subjects seem to us essentially empirical, and our argument against theory will not apply to them.

      Contemporary theory has taken two forms. Some theorists have sought to ground the reading of literary texts in methods designed to guarantee the objectivity and validity of interpretations. Others, impressed by the inability of such procedures to produce agreement among interpreters, have translated that failure into an alternative mode of theory that denies the possibility of correct interpretation. Our aim here is not to choose between these two alternatives but rather to show that both rest on a single mistake, a mistake that is central to the notion of theory per se. The object of our critique is not a particular way of doing theory but the idea of doing theory at all.

      Theory attempts to solve—or to celebrate the impossibility of solving—a set of familiar problems: the function of authorial intention, the status of literary language, the role of interpretive assumptions, and so on. We will not attempt to solve these problems, nor will we be concerned with tracing their history or surveying the range of arguments they have stimulated. In our view, the mistake on which all critical theory rests has been to imagine that these problems are real. In fact, we will claim such problems only seem real--and theory itself only seems possible or relevant—when theorists fail to recognize the fundamental inseparability of the elements involved.

      The clearest example of the tendency to generate theoretical problems by splitting apart terms that are in fact inseparable is the persistent debate over the relation between authorial intention and the meaning texts. Some theorists have claimed that valid interpretations can only be obtained through an appeal to authorial intentions. This assumption is shared by theorists who, denying the possibility of recovering authorial intentions, also deny the possibility of valid interpretations. But once it is seen that the meaning of a text is simply identical to the author's intended meaning, the project of grounding meaning in intention becomes incoherent. Since the project itself is incoherent, it can neither succeed nor fail, hence both theoretical attitudes toward intention are irrelevant. The mistake made by theorists has been to imagine the possibility or desirability of moving from one term (the author's intended meaning) to a second term (the text's meaning), when actually the two terms are the same. One can neither succeed nor fail in deriving one term from the other, since to have one is already to have them both.

      In the following two sections we will try to show in detail how theoretical accounts of intention always go wrong. In the fourth section we will undertake a similar analysis of an influential account of the role interpretive assumptions or beliefs play in the practice of literary criticism. The issues of belief and intention are, we think, central to the theoretical enterprise; our discussion of them is thus directed not only against specific theoretical arguments but against theory in general. Our examples are meant to represent the central mechanism of all theoretical arguments, and our treatment of them is meant to indicate that all such arguments will fail and fail in the same way. If we are right, then the whole enterprise of critical theory is misguided and should be abandoned.

    • 743John Paul Russo
    • I. A. Richards ushered the spirit of Cambridge realism into semantics and literary criticism. When he arrived as an undergraduate in 1911, Cambridge was in the midst of its finest philosophical flowering since the Puritanism and Platonism of the seventeenth century. The revolution of G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell against Hegelian idealism had already occurred; the Age of Principia was under way. There was a reassertion of native empiricism and a new interest in philosophical psychology, and the whole discussion was marked increasingly by a preoccupation with language. Richards, too, would break with the past, with the history of criticism in the previous two generations, gather psychological ideas to establish an empirical semantics and aesthetics, and center his attention on language. Although Romantic and late-Victorian values inform his theories, Richards set down an original criticism on first principles, not on tradition. Many of his books' titles show this rationalist strains: The Foundations of Aesthetics (1921), The Meaning of Meaning (1923), Principles of Literary Criticism (1924), Basic Rules of Reason (1933), and The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936). The originality and influence of Richards' criticism can be shown by the number of terms he put into circulation, terms which became the currency of debate for almost half a century: close reading, tone, pseudostatement, stock response, tension, equilibrium, tenor and vehicle of metaphor, emotive and referential language.

      John Paul Russo is a professor and chairman of the English department at the University of Miami. He is the editor of I. A. Richards' Complementarities: Uncollected Essays and the author of Alexander Pope: Tradition and Identity and an annotated bibliography of Richards' works. He is currently completing a critical biography of Richards. "A Study in Influence: The Moore-Richards Paradigm," his previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, appeared in the Summer 1979 issue.

    • 761Paul de Man
    • We are far removed, in this section of the Encyclopedia on memory, from the mnemotechnic icons described by Francis Yates in The Art of Memory and much closer to Augustine's advice about how to remember and to psalmodize Scripture. Memory, for Hegel, is the learning by rote of names, or of words considered as names, and it can therefore not be separated from the notation, the inscription, or the writing down of these names. In order to remember, one is forced to write down what one is likely to forget. The idea in other words, makes its sensory appearance, in Hegel, as the material inscription of names. Thought is entirely dependent on a mental faculty that is mechanical through and through, as remote as can be from the sounds and the images of the imagination or from the dark mine of recollection, which lies beyond the reach of words and of thought


      No wonder, then, that Hegel's Aesthetics turns out to be a double and possibly duplicitous text. Dedicated to the preservation and the monumentalization of classical art, it also contains all the elements which make such a preservation impossible from the start. Theoretical reasons prevent the convergence of the apparently historical and the properly theoretical components of the work. This results in the enigmatic statements that have troubled Hegel's readers, such as the assertion that art is for us a thing of the past. This has usually been interpreted and criticized or, in some rare instances, praised as a historical diagnosis disproven or borne out by actual history. We can now assert that the two statements "art is for us a thing of the past" and "the beautiful is the sensory manifestation of the idea" are in fact one and the same. To the extent that the paradigm for art is thought rather than perception, the sign rather than the symbol, writing rather than painting or music, it will also be memorization rather than recollection. As such, it belongs indeed to a past which, in Proust's words, could never be recaptured, retrouve. Art is "of the past" in a radical sense, in that, like memorization, it leaves the interiorization of experience forever behind. It is of the past to the extent that it materially inscribes, and thus forever forgets, its ideal content. The reconciliation of the two main theses of the Aesthetics occurs at the expense of the aesthetic as a stable philosophical category. What the Aesthetics calls the beautiful terms turns out to be, also, something very remote from what we associate with the suggestiveness of symbolic form.

      Paul de Man, Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale University, is the author of Blindness and Insight and Allegories of Reading and is currently completing a book tentatively titled The Resistance to Theory. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "Political Allegory in Rousseau" (Summer 1976), "The Epistemology of Metaphor" (Autumn 1978), and "A Letter" (Spring 1982).

    • 777Michel Foucault
    • I would like to suggest another way to go further toward a new economy of power relations, a way which is more empirical, more directly related to our present situation, and which implies more relations between theory and practice. It consists of taking the forms of resistance against different forms of power as a starting point. To use another metaphor, t consists of using this resistance as a chemical catalyst so as to bring to light power relations, locate their position, and find out their point of application and the methods used. Rather than analyzing power from the point of view of its internal rationality, it consists of analyzing power relations through the antagonism of strategies.


      Let us come back to the definition of the exercise of power as a way in which certain actions may structure the field of other possible actions. What, therefore, would be proper to a relationship of power is that it be a mode of action upon actions. That is to say, power relations are rooted deep in the social nexus, not reconstituted "above" society as a supplementary structure whose radical effacement one could perhaps dream of. In any case, to live in a society is to live in such a way that action upon other actions is possible-- and in fact ongoing. A society without power relations can only be an abstraction. Which, be it said in passing, makes all the more politically necessary the analysis of power relations in a given society, their historical formation, the source of their strength or fragility, the conditions which are necessary to transform some or to abolish others. For to say that there cannot be a society without power relations is not to say either that those which are established are necessary or, in any case, that power constitutes a fatality at the heart of societies, such that it cannot be undermined. Instead, I would say that the analysis, elaboration, and bringing into question of power relations and the "agonism" between power relations and the instransitivity of freedom is a permanent political task inherent in all social existence.


      In effect, between a relationship of power and a strategy of struggle there is a reciprocal appeal, a perpetual linking and a perpetual reversal. At every moment the relationship of power may become a confrontation between two adversaries. Equally, the relationship between adversaries in society may, at every moment, give place to the putting into operation of mechanisms of power. The consequence of this instability is the ability to decipher the same events and the same transformations either from inside the history of struggle or from the standpoint of the power relationships. The interpretations which result will not consist of the same elements of meaning or the same links or the same types of intelligibility, although they refer to the same historical fabric, and each of the two analyses must have reference to the other. In fact, it is precisely the disparities between the two readings which make visible those fundamental phenomena of "domination" which are present in a large number of human societies.

      Michel Foucault has been teaching at the Collège de France since 1970. His works include Madness and Civilization (1961), The Birth of the Clinic (1966), Discipline and Punish (1975), and History of Sexuality (1976), the first volume of a projected five-volume study.