Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Winter 1996


Volume 22 Issue 2
    • 171Jacques Derrida
    • One cannot hold a discourse on the “work of mourning” without taking part in it, without announcing or partaking in [se faire part de] death, and first of all in one’s own death. In the announcement of one’s own death, which says, in short, “I am dead,” “I died”—such as this book lets it be heard—one should be able to say, and I have tried to say this in the past, that all work is also the work of mourning. All work in general works at mourning. In and of itself. Even when it has the power to give birth, even and especially when it plans to bring something to light and let it be seen. The work of mourning is not one kind of work among other possible kinds; an activity of the kind “work” is by no means a specific figure for production in general.

      There is thus no metalanguage for the language in which a work of mourning is at work. This is also why one should not be able to say anything about the work of mourning, anything about this subject, since it cannot become a theme, only another experience of mourning that comes to work over the one who intends to speak. To speak of mourning or of anything else. And that is why whoever thus works at the work of mourning learns the impossible—and that mourning is interminable. Inconsolable. Irreconcilable. Right up until death—that is what whoever works at mourning knows, working at mourning as both their object and their recourse, working at mourning as one would speak of a painter working at a painting but also of a machine working at such and such an energy level, the theme of work thus becoming their very force, and their term, a principle.

      See also: W. Wolfgang Holdheim, Jacques Derrida's Apologia

      Jacques Derrida is Directeur d’Études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris and professor of French, University of California, Irvine. His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry is “’To Do Justice to Freud’: The History of Madness in the Age of Psychoanalysis” (Winter 1994). Pascale-Anne Brault is assistant professor of French at DePaul University. She has written articles on contemporary French literature and drama and is currently working on a book on the revisioning of female identity in classical Greek literature. Michael Naas is assistant professor of philosophy at DePaul University and author of Turning: From Persuasion to Philosophy (1995). Together they have translated, among other works, Derrida’s Memoirs of the Blind (1993) and “To Do Justice to Freud.”

    • 193Mario Biagioli
    • This essay looks at the first decades of the scientific academies and relates the sociabilities and scientific styles developed in Italy, France, and England to the different degrees of princely involvement in those institutions, to the power of those various princes, and to the different institutional structures regulating the relationship between practitioners and princes. By doing so, I trace the transformation of the codes of princely etiquette that framed the legitimation of individual practitioners through dependence on individual princes into the academic politeness that, by structuring the interdependence among practitioners, informed their subjectivities, practices,  and claims as members of scientific institutions.

      See also: Mario Biagioli, Postdisciplinary Liaisons: Science Studies and the Humanities

      Mario Biagioli is professor of history of science at Harvard University. He is the author of Galileo, Courtier (1993) and is currently completing, with Albert Van Helden, a book on the discovery of sunspots in 1612-13. This essay is part of a larger project on the author-function in early modern science.

      See also: 

    • 239O. K. Werckmeister
    • In the spring of 1989, six months before the Berlin Wall was breached, a West German professor of history, Lutz Niethammer, was writing yet another commentary on Walter Benjamin’s ninth thesis on the philosophy of history, that well-known aphorism evoking the image of an angel of history who is blown away by a storm over an inexorably growing pile of rubble on the ground. He was also organizing a new government institute for cultural studies at Essen, to be opened the following year. In the preface to the book of which his commentary on Benjamin’s thesis forms a chapter, Niethammer recalls how he wrote in the dead of night, after the administrative duties of the day, on the still-empty premises of the future institute.1 In the official publication documenting and commemorating the foundation, he likewise remembers those daytime and nighttime activities as mutually complementary.2 As soon as the institute opened, Niethammer put his planned interdisciplinary working program up for discussion at  a study group called “Memory,” whose first order of business was a reading of Benjamin’s late writings.3

      1. See Lutz Niethammer, “Der verblasene Engel: Über die Posthistoire einer Historik der Gefahr,” Posthistoire: Ist die Geschichte zu Ende? (Reinbek, 1989), pp. 116-53; see also p. 12; trans. Patrick Camiller, under the title, “The Blown-Away Angel: On the Posthistory of a Historical Epistemology of Danger,” Posthistoire: has History Come to an End? (New York, 1992), pp. 101-34; see also p. 6.

      2. See Wissenschaftszentrum Nordrhein-Westfalen, Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut, Das Gründungsjahr: Bericht 1990 (Essen, 1991), p. 84.

      3. See ibid., p. 48.

      See also: O. K. Werckmeister, Hitler the Artist  ·  O. K. Werckmeister, Kafka 007

      O. K. Werckmesiter is the Mary Jane Crowe Distinguished Professor of Art History at Northwestern University. His latest books include The Making of Paul Klee’s Career, 1914-1920 (1989) and Citadel Culture (1991). His books-in-progress are The Political Confrontation of the Arts: From the Great Depression to the Second World War, 1929-1939 and Icons of the Left, which will include the present essay.

    • 268Lutz P. Koepnick
    • Though often quoted and much discussed, [Walter] Benjamin’s 1935-36 diagnosis of fascism as politics rendered as aesthetics still remains enigmatic and in need of further theoretical analysis. As I will illustrate in what follows, however, Benjamin’s much earlier book on the Trauerspiel already inquires into the nexus of power, legality, and representation, the nexus of political sovereignty and visuality, and thus anticipates some of the central elements of the aestheticization thesis in “The Work of Art the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Emerging from the atmosphere of the early Weimar Republic, Benjamin’s treatise on baroque theater and some related essays delineate a subtle critique of the political dimension of art and the aesthetic dimension of modern power. In a metaphysical rather than materialistic fashion, these works try to come to terms with political strategies of legitimation that hinge upon the theatricality of monarchical authority, of politicians who operate within disenchanted arenas of worldly immanence and bodily exteriorization. A;though many critics have emphasized Benjamin’s apolitical posture prior to his idiosyncratic discovery of Marxism around 1925, his examination of baroque power in fact not only prefigures his later analysis of aesthetic politics but also identifies Benjamin as a critic well aware of the political dimension of the aesthetic. Yet whereas his later work will critique the spectacles of fascist power as a perverse excess of art, Benjamin’s early aesthetics inquires into the hidden aesthetic agenda of Carl Schmitt’s decisionism, his existentialistic theory of sovereignty and political action.

      See also: Brian Britt, The Schmittian Messiah in Agamben's The Time That Remains

      Lutz P. Koepnick, assistant professor of German studies at Washington University, is the author of Nothungs Modernität” Wagners “Ring” und die Poesie der Macht im neunzehnten Jahrhundert (1994). He is currently working on a book about the impact of American popular culture on German film, music, and literature from the 1920s to the present.

    • 292Miriam Bratu Hansen
    • In the following, I will try to trace some of the dynamics at work in the reception of Schindler’s List. I regard the controversies over the film as symptomatic of larger issues, in particular the ongoing problematic of Holocaust remembrance and the so-called Americanization of the Holocaust, but also the more general issue of the relationship of intellectuals to mass culture, specifically to the media publics of cinema and television. I see both these issues encapsulated in the pervasive polarization of critical argument into the opposition between Schindler’s List and Claude Lanzmann’s documentary Shoah (1985) as two mutually exclusive paradigms of cinematically representing or not-representing the Holocaust. This opposition, I will argue, does not yield a productive way of dealing with the films or the larger issues involved.4

      4. For a comment on the relationship between the two films, see Yosefa Loshitzky, “Holocaust Others: Spielberg’s Schindler’s List versus Lanzmann’s Shoah,” in Spielberg’s Holocaust: Critical Perspectives on “Schindler’s List,” ed. Loshitzky (Bloomington, Ind., 1996).

      See also: Dominick LaCapra, Lanzmann's "Shoah": "Here There Is No Why"  ·  Sander L. Gilman, Is Life Beautiful? Can the Shoah Be Funny? Some Thoughts on Recent and Older Films

      Miriam Bratu Hansen is Andrew W. Mellon and Ferdinand Scherill Distinguished Service Professor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago where she also directs the Film Studies Center. She is completing a study of the Frankfurt school’s debates on film and mass culture.

    • 313Mary Ann Doane
    • The advent of mechanical reproduction inaugurated a discursive thematic of excess and oversaturation that is still with us today. The sheer quantity of images and sounds is perceived as the threat of overwhelming or suffocating the subject. In his 1927 essay on photography, Siegfried Kracauer appeals to figures of natural disaster to capture the anxiety attendant upon the accelerated diffusion of photographic images. He refers to “the blizzard of photographs” and the “flood of photos” that “sweep away the dams of memory.”1 Excess is embodied within the form of the photograph itself to the extent that it represents a spatial continuum without the gaps or lacks conducive to the production of historical significance. This continuum of the photography becomes, in Kracauer’s argument, the continuum of a photography that supports an overwhelming and ultimately meaningless historicism. Hence, we have the crucial and yet puzzling problem of the development and maintenance of a photographic archive, as so provocatively delineated by Allan Sekula.2­­ What taxonomic principle can govern the breakdown and ordering of a “flood” or a “blizzard”?

      1. Siegfried Kracauer, “Photography,” Critical Inquiry 19 (Spring 1993): 432.

      2. See Allan Sekula, “The Body and the Archive,” October, no. 39 (Winter 1986): 3-64.

      See also: Jonathan Auerbach, Chasing Film Narrative: Repetition, Recursion, and the Body in Early Cinema

      Mary Ann Doane is professor of modern culture and media and of English at Brown University. She is the author of The Desire to Desire: The Woman’s Film of the 1940s (1987) and Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis (1991). She is currently working on a book on technologies of temporality in modernity.

    • 344Julie Ellison
    • Insofar as neo marks a historical recurrence of memories of the most recent era of liberal and radical initiative, both terms—neo and liberal—are bound up with Lauren Berlant’s reading, in these pages, of “’68, or Something.” “What does it mean to be accused of being ’68 in the 1990s?” she asks, with ’68 standing for “the risk of political embarrassment” associated with utopian tactics. What are “the political risks of becoming minor”? Berlant’s essay pursues embarrassments other than liberal guilt, though with strong affinities to it. She focuses on academic adaptations to conservative success and sets against them “a left/feminism that refuses to lose its impulse toward a revolutionary utopian historicity.3 I share Berlant’s fascination with the way embarrassment and utopian language coincide. But, since liberal guilt arises precisely when people are convinced that utopian projects are failing, my account of the political malleability of liberal guilt and its relationship to earlier forms of cross-racial sympathy is a study in comparative embarrassments. The discourse of liberal guilt can “notice race” from the position of the minor, that is, in the mode of critique. Or … it can admit the charge of political apostasy even as it confirms the pragmatic value of a shift from idealism to fear. Although the point of this article is not to recuperate liberal guilt for the left, one of my intentions is to show how liberal guilt can be folded into a productive antiracist cultural or political position. In the course of the last decade, the pangs of liberal guilt have been subjected to inventive revisions by practitioners of subaltern studies, critical legal theory, and feminism in an international frame. The most significant political change in the culture of liberal guilt takes place when the Other becomes the author, a phenomenon that is almost as old as the thing itself, although I will not be able to present that history here. The adaptability of liberal guilt, in its complex translations across gender and racial differences, shows how serviceable the nerve-wracking moods of sympathy can be.

      3. Lauren Berlant, “’68, or Something,” Critical Inquiry 21 (Autumn 1994): 125, 128, 132, 137.

      See also: Lauren Berlant, ‘68, or Something

      Julie Ellison is finishing Cato’s Tears, a book on early modern liberal guilt and other vicarious relations in eighteenth-century English and British North American cultures. She anticipates that her next project, Burnout, will explore the question of how, historically, public life came to be thought of as personally exhausting, especially for artists and poets. This question leads to speculations on the economies of energy implicit in our ideas of “the movement” and of radical activism—speculations that arise out of this essay and that will occupy her for some time to come.