Wars. So many wars. Wars outside and wars inside. Cultural wars, science wars, and wars against terrorism. Wars against poverty and wars against the poor. Wars against ignorance and wars out of ignorance. My question is simple: Should we be at war, too, we, the scholars, the intellectuals? Is it really our duty to add fresh ruins to fields of ruins? Is it really the task of the humanities to add deconstruction to destruction? More iconoclasm to iconoclasm? What has become of the critical spirit? Has it run out of steam?
Bruno Latour teaches sociology at the École des Mines in Paris.
To enter the headquarters for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Turkey, you must pass through barbed wire gates and a security checkpoint. If you are applying for asylum (because you have escaped Iraq after being raped and tortured or because you will be executed if forced to return to Iran), you will be escorted through these gates and then taken downstairs into the holding chambers of the basement. There you will be required to answer a series of questions to determine whether you meet the specific conditions for refugee status under international law. If your answers do not suffice, you will be deported back to your country of origin. The interview rooms are small with poor ventilation. Larry Bottinick, eligibility officer for the UNHCR, explains that they will be moving to a new building soon. “Whenever you ask an Iraqi to describe the conditions of their detention,” he says of refugees from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, “they answer: ‘It was like this room.’”
James Dawes is an assistant professor of English at Macalester College. He is the author of The Language of War (2002); his current project examines the language of human rights.
In the beginning there would be four persons. Maybe five. Just about as many as the needs of the body. A farmer for food, a mason for housing, a weaver for clothing. To these let us add a shoemaker and some other worker to provide for material necessities.
That is how Plato’s republic presents itself. Without a deity or founding legend. With individuals, needs, and the means to satisfy them. A masterpiece of economy—with its four or five workers Plato founds not only a city but a future science, sociology. Our nineteenth century will be grateful to him.
Jacques Rancière is emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Paris‐VIII (Saint‐Denis). His many books in English include The Ignorant Schoolmaster, On the Shores of Politics, and Disagreement. “The Order of the City” is the first chapter of The Philosopher and His Poor, edited by Andrew Parker (2004), an extended reading of the figure of the laborer in Plato, Marx, Sartre, and Pierre Bourdieu.
One could call Deleuze the ideologist of late capitalism. The much celebrated Spinozan imitatio affecti, the impersonal circulation of affects bypassing persons, is the very logic of publicity, of video clips, and so on, where what matters is not the message about the product, but the intensity of the transmitted affects and perceptions. Furthermore, recall hardcore pornography scenes in which the very unity of the bodily self‐experience is magically dissolved so that the spectator perceives the bodies as a kind of vaguely coordinated agglomerate of partial objects. Is this logic where we are no longer dealing with persons interacting, but with the multiplicity of intensities, of places of enjoyment, of bodies as a collective/impersonal desiring machine not eminently Deleuzian?
Slavoj Žižek is senior researcher at the department of philosophy, University of Ljubjana. His latest publications include The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (2003) and Organs without Bodies: Deleuze and Consequences (2003).
On 11–12 April 2003 the editorial board of Critical Inquiry gathered in Chicago to discuss the future of the journal and of the interdisciplinary fields of criticism and theory that it addresses. Academic conferences are, as we all know, a dime a dozen; and the board meetings of academic journals are not usually reported (as this one was) in the New York Times and Boston Globe. There was something different about this meeting, something (if you will forgive a lapse from editorial neutrality) quite special, unique, even extraordinary. For one thing, no papers were delivered, only brief statements and questions. The entire conference consisted of dialogue, with the exception of a couple of ceremonial welcomes and a brief introductory statement by Fred Jameson. All of the written statements for the conference were submitted and circulated weeks in advance of the conference on the Critical Inquiry home page.
W. J. T. Mitchell, editor of Critical Inquiry, is the Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor in the departments of English and art history and in the Committee on Art and Design and in the College at the University of Chicago.
I take as my text—because I am one of those critics who can speculate only via a text—the five propositions that collectively suggest that critical inquiry, the practice, not the journal, is both retrenching and expanding, assuming a depressive and euphoric stance toward the place of the humanities in a posthuman age (see pp. 330–31). Five potential futures, but only two positions: a defense of familiar humanistic ground against the pressures of technology and corporatization and an embrace of the human sciences reconstituted through, and on equal footing with, their more confident scientific others. Can these stances be theorized together rather than apart?
Elizabeth Abel is professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis (1989), the editor of Writing and Sexual Difference (1982), and the coeditor of The Voyage In (1983), The Signs Reader (1983), and Female Subjects in Black and White (1997). She is completing a manuscript entitled Signs of the Times: The Visual Politics of Jim Crow.
Perhaps I can offer the small confession that, for my work, I have always found Foucault more interesting than Derrida and that the Foucauldian project still points, I believe, to a vast number of unexplored avenues of inquiry. Foucault’s genius lay in coupling a sociological imagination—concerned with how whole societies work and the structuring principles of their operations—with a remarkably astute sensitivity to the texture and effects of sign systems. Derrida is no less astute on the latter point but lacks (in my view) the sociological imagination, which is fundamentally necessary for any effort to give criticism serious political relevance.
Danielle Allen is professor in the departments of classics and political science, and in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. She has written The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens (2000) and Talking to Strangers: On Little Rock and Political Friendship (2004).
Race, class … all that … but isn’t all that just history?
Aren’t people bored with it all?
The way she spoke those lines, sort of flaunting them with a kind of faux naïve provocation, suggested that she knew that Adrienne Rich poem, the one that ends with a young woman asking that very question. You know the poem I mean, the one about an older woman, somebody roughly our age, whose participation in the movements of the sixties or late eighties becomes part of her ethical mission in the classroom.
Homi K. Bhabha is professor of English and Afro‐American studies at Harvard University.
As everyone knows, predictions about the future turn out to be mistaken 99.9 percent of the time. So even though our editor has asked for predictions, I resist any temptation to predict a gloomy—or even a cheerful—future for all genuinely serious academic journals. Instead I offer what I would do if I were living in some Utopia and got chosen as editor of CI. Some of my suggestions are brilliantly ironic (for example, number 5). Some will seem to many of you, especially the youngest ones, pointless. But the next to the last one, number 4, is utterly solemn; indeed, it disguises a bit of frustrated despair about our present “critical” scene.
Wayne Booth, professor of English emeritus at the University of Chicago, was one of the founding editors of CI. Sheldon Sacks had the initial idea: a journal devoted only to essays by the “Chicago school” founders and their disciples. That narrow notion soon expanded from Chicago formalism to cover all formalist methods and then on outward to include all literary criticism. Only quite late did it explode into criticism of all human achievements. My own vocational centers have followed an amusingly similar trajectory. First I was transformed from a chemistry major into “English teacher” by wonderful teachers at Brigham Young University. Then as a grad student at Chicago I was captivated by “literary criticism,” under the equally wonderful “Chicago school.” (“Your assignment is to pursue the unity of individual works, following the Poetics.”) Only slowly, under the tutelage of rhetoricians like Kenneth Burke and Richard McKeon, did my “center” burst outward into all fields of human communication—not just the rhetoric and ethics of fictions but the rhetoric of everything. My next published book will be a manifesto celebrating the importance of rhetorical studies in all fields. My primary goal in life is to get CI to change its title to The Rhetoric of Critical Inquiry.
In the age of freedom fries, it is worth recalling the proverbial wisdom of the French: reculer pour mieux sauter. As a way of thinking about the future of Critical Inquiry and its place in criticism, I’d like to begin with a brief recollection of its past. I’ve been around long enough to remember the first talk about founding a new journal here at Chicago. This was probably late 1972 or early 1973. The war was still dragging on, Spiro Agnew had gone down cursing the “left‐wing media” (those were the days), but Nixon was still in the White House. The Watergate story was moving toward the phase of the public hearings that would rivet us all through much of 1973. Academics were still living in the long shadow of the events of 1968. At Chicago, you could tell that grudges about the student protests and the occupation of the administration building were still rankling both sides. They were palpable even to those who arrived as faculty or graduate students well after the events.
James K. Chandler is Barbara E. and Richard J. Franke Professor in the department of English language and literature, the Committee on Cinema and Media Studies, and the Committee on the History of Culture at the University of Chicago, where he is also director of the Franke Institute for the Humanities. His books include England in 1819: The Politics of Literary Culture and the Case of Romantic Historicism (1998) and The Romantic Metropolis: The Urban Scene of British Romanticism, 1780–1840, coedited with Kevin Gilmartin (2004).
Critical Inquiry has established its deserved reputation for must‐readability by being unclassifiable. It is neither an academic journal serving a particular disciplinary audience (though some of its articles could have been published in such a journal) nor a journal of general cultural commentary (though, again, there is some overlap). Moreover, some of the best articles published in recent issues are also unclassifiable in style and genre—but all fresh, stimulating, and written with clarity and verve. It seems to me that the greatest risk for Critical Inquiry is becoming predictable and uniform, just as the greatest risk for the humanities is becoming hermetic. Hence my suggestions about where to go and what to do next are deliberately helter‐skelter, tending in no one direction in particular.
Lorraine Daston is codirector of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. Recent publications include The Moral Authority of Nature (2003), coedited with Fernando Vidal, and Eine kurze Geschichte der wissenschaftlichen Aufmerksamkeit (2001). Her Tanner Lectures held at Harvard in 2002 are forthcoming as The Moral and Natural Orders.
The task we are charged with, “to set an agenda for critical inquiry … in the [twenty‐first] century,” is one I want to resist (p. 329). It is not only that I would not want to speculate on the future of criticism and theory the way market analysts project the futures of commodities (which is hardly reliable, anyway). It is not simply that I am nearsightedly unable to envision the future beyond, perhaps, the next few years. The mainspring of my resistance is the belief that the time for theory is always now. What I mean is, the time of theory, as articulated thought, is always the present, though its roots be found in the past, reaching across the contingent, material, social, sexual, racial, intellectual history of the theorizing subject and regardless of its uses and abuses in the undetermined future. In this sense, theory is timeless, like poetry or like the unconscious. Indeed, Freud’s metapsychological speculation illustrates this timelessness of theory, as does the work of others we may call, with Foucault, “initiators of discursive practices”—himself included. To say it another way, thinking, however abstract, originates in an embodied subjectivity, at once overdetermined and permeable to contingent events. To the extent that it is invested in figuring out the now—that is to say, the enigma of the world—the thinking of theory is political.
Teresa de Lauretis is professor in the department of the History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Soggetti eccentrici (1999), The Practice of Love (1994), and several other books in English and Italian. She is currently working on Basic Instincts, a book of essays on Freud’s theory of drives.
The current situation—the specter of war between the United States and Iraq—has a way of foregrounding questions of bellicose recklessness and problems of international justice that tend to cast our more usual activities into the shade. The massiveness of the scale on which war can now be waged—and can be waged by being continually threatened—tends to make other concerns look small in comparison. The ongoing sense that the war is impending and has been impending for months upon months causes at least me to discover that there are many things for which I have no appetite. I watch very little of the nightly news broadcasts on the major American networks; I read increasingly little of the newspapers; I turn off Bush’s State of the Union speech in the middle of one of his sentences. I cannot claim that I like this way of living, in which I feel that I am constantly remiss, failing in my duty as a citizen to sift and evaluate information and opinion. What I feel, of course, is the difficulty of imagining a way of actually doing something that would be useful. Demonstrations and petitions have their effects or, at least, their consolations; but Critical Inquiry has, partially through the timing of its forum, prompted me to worry again about questions of choice and agency.
Frances Ferguson is Mary Elizabeth Garrett Professor of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of Wordsworth: Language as Counter‐Spirit (1977), Solitude and the Sublime: Romanticism and the Aesthetics of Individuation (1992), and Pornography: What Utilitarianism Did to Action (2004).
The wonderfully varied statements written for the Critical Inquiry symposium contain moments that are elegiac, expansionist, and deflationary. In the elegiac moments the writer invokes a fairly recent past (often the late sixties and early to middle seventies) when the practice of theory seemed to promise great cultural and political advances. In the expansionist moments (often accompanied by bitter reflections on the political situation in the United States today) the observation that theory’s political thrust has been blunted and even smothered by its academic success—that is, by its professionalization—is followed by a call to break out of the academy’s confines so that theory can once again speak to a larger audience and offer itself as a vehicle for large social reforms.
Stanley Fish teaches at the University of Illinois, Chicago. His most recent books are The Trouble with Principle (1999) and How Milton Works (2001).
Almost everything about Jean‐Paul Sartre grated on Michel Foucault. But Foucault objected to nothing more strenuously than Sartre’s role in the French political and philosophical scene, where the older philosopher delivered judgments as if seated in a heavenly courtroom. True, the figure of the intellectual from Zola to Sartre, donning the mantle of the judge, could speak procedure, reason, and law against the arbitrary exertion of power. In its time such on‐high interventions were powerful. But for Foucault such a claim to global authority no longer carried force. Against the role of a universal intellectual he contended that a new figure was coming into view, the specific intellectual. Exemplary for Foucault were the words of J. Robert Oppenheimer, whose arguments on the nuclear balance of terror stemmed not from his status as an intellectual, but from his direct experience with the building and regulation of nuclear weapons.
Peter Galison is the Mallinckrodt Professor of the History of Science and Physics at Harvard University. His main work explores the interaction between the principal subcultures of physics: How Experiments End (1987), Image and Logic (1997), and Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps (2003). Several projects explore crosscurrents between science and other fields, including his coedited volumes The Architecture of Science (1999), Picturing Science, Producing Art (1998), and Scientific Authorship (2003). In 1997, he was named a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellow, and in 1999 he received the Max Planck prize.
All of this points to the success of theory and its own limitations. Is “pure” theory being written today? The closeness of contemporary philosophy and literary studies is evident. But this theory often takes a very different form: in virtually every arena of literary and cultural studies, from new historical to feminist to Holocaust or postcolonial studies, theoretical questions frame presentations that are themselves substantive. Environmental criticism, globalization theory, the study of alternative modes of transmission of knowledge (such as the World Wide Web) generate and absorb theoretical models. They are often highly theoretical and use case studies to present complex theoretical issues, applicable to a wider range of topics, in the pursuit of any given specific study. Often the best theory today is found in these contexts.
Sander L. Gilman is a distinguished professor of the liberal arts and medicine at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He is the director of the Humanities Laboratory and the first director of the Jewish Studies Program there. A cultural and literary historian, he is the author or editor of over sixty books. His most recent monograph Jewish Frontiers: Essays on Bodies, Histories, and Identities appeared in 2003.
When Colin Powell went before the United Nations on 5 February 2003 to make his case for war against Iraq, instructions were given to cover Picasso’s Guernica, usually displayed at the entrance of the Security Council, with a blue cloth; this cover‐up was in turn to be covered up with a display of the council’s flags. According to U.N. diplomats, the picture would have sent too much of a “mixed message”; quipped Maureen Dowd in the New York Times, “Mr. Powell can’t very well seduce the world into bombing Iraq surrounded on camera by shrieking and mutilated women, men, children, bulls and horses.”
Miriam Hansen is Ferdinand Schevill Distinguished Service Professor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago, where she teaches in the department of English and the Committee on Cinema and Media Studies. She is the author of Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film (1991) and is currently completing a study on “The Other Frankfurt School: Kracauer, Benjamin, and Adorno on Cinema, Mass Culture, and Modernity.”
I should say at the outset that my experience with Critical Inquiry stems from the years I served as a coeditor until I left the University of Chicago, not as a teacher and reader of literary texts, as such, but as a fellow traveler (or camp follower, depending upon your politics) of literary culture who taught the history of an Asian society and was thus obligatorily armed with the conceits of area studies and the perspective of the softer social sciences like anthropology. Anybody trained in regions outside of Euro‐America, then and even today, was socialized into approaches that saw the study of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America as an extension of fieldwork, where we would spend time extracting raw data that would be processed and refined by Euro‐American theory. While my presence on the editorial board at Critical Inquiry represented, perhaps, both a move outside of Euro‐American literary culture and a new engagement with the wider world that cultural studies was beginning to encounter and incorporate into teaching and research, my own involvement more often than not drove me further into the new world of literature and theory.
Harry Harootunian is formerly Max Palevsky Professor of History and Civilizations at the University of Chicago and a former coeditor of Critical Inquiry. He is currently chair of the department of East Asian studies at New York University. He has recently coedited with Masao Miyoshi a book titled Learning Places: The Afterlives of Area Studies (2002).
What we now have to register (I’m slowly coming to the question of theory today) is the way in which this view of thinking and writing gradually annexes large areas of the traditional disciplines, that is to say, traditions in which outmoded practices of representation—belief in the separation of words and concepts—still holds sway. I am describing the process of the expansion of theory in figures of war and domination and imperialism because theory is of course also yet another characteristic superstructural development of late capitalism and thus displays many of the same dynamics (although in a wholly different political valence). At any rate, what happens during the period in which theory spreads—and the classical story is well known: first anthropology borrows its fundamental principles from linguistics, then literary criticism develops the former’s implications in a range of new practices, which are adapted to psychoanalysis and the social sciences, the law, other cultural disciplines—what happens in this process of transfer is what I would characterize (keeping to a linguistic mode) as wholesale translation, the supplanting of one language by another or, better still, by one kind of language of a whole range of very different ones. What is called the exhaustion of theory is generally little more than the completion of this translational appropriation for this or that disciplinary area.
Fredric Jameson is director of the Institute for Critical Theory at Duke University and a professor of French and comparative literature. Among his recent books are A Singular Modernity (2002), Brecht and Method (1998), and The Seeds of Time (1994).
Jerome McGann is the John Stewart Bryan University Professor at the University of Virginia. His edition of D. G. Rossetti has just appeared from Yale University Press, and he is now preparing an edition of Swinburne, also for Yale. His recent book Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web received the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell award in 2002.
Perhaps some things should not be the objects of inquiry, especially critical inquiry. Some powerful segments of our society these days seem to think so. Why did Sheldon Sacks want to call the journal Critical Inquiry, in that now far‐off time? Perhaps one topic to reflect on is just that value of critical inquiry in itself, as a traditional feature of the American university and of the publications it sponsors, such as Critical Inquiry. Are there, or should there be, topics not open to critical inquiry, for example, the utility of critical inquiry? In a democracy, is it right to make critical inquiries into democracy itself?
J. Hillis Miller taught for many years at the Johns Hopkins University and then at Yale University, before going to the University of California at Irvine in 1986, where he is now UCI Distinguished Research Professor. He is the author of many books and essays on nineteenth‐ and twentieth‐century English, European, and American literature and on literary theory. His most recent books are Others (2001), Speech Acts in Literature (2002), and On Literature (2002). He is at work on a book on speech acts in the novels and stories of Henry James.
I begin by confessing that part of me feels reluctant to comment on what I think Critical Inquiry should become during its next phase. I believe journals should respond to the wishes of their editors and readers, whatever those turn out to be, and that this is impossible to predict. Suffice it to say that so far Critical Inquiry has done extremely well in this respect, and I trust it will continue to do so. But because the editors will determine what the journal publishes in the future, and much of their responsibility will be to identify material that appeals to and challenges their constituency, it seems foolish to me to speculate about how all that might in fact turn out.
Robert Morgan is professor of music at Yale University and author, most recently, of “Schenker and the Twentieth Century: A Modernist Perspective,” in Music in the Mirror: Reflections on the History of Music Theory and Literature for the Twenty‐First Century, edited by Andreas Giger and Thomas J. Mathiesen (2002).
Other board members, I expect, will comment on the state of matters critical in literature and the arts. There is also of course the issue of the status of a critical theory of society. So I wanted to say something about the state and future of critical theory an sich, essentially the Left‐Hegelian, Marxist, Frankfurt school tradition, although the notion has become broad enough so that even the likes of Heidegger and his influential legacy and army of epigones are relevant. There are obvious implications for contemporary literary theory, but I won’t try to go into that. This will just be an attempt to identify the still unsolved problem. It will have to be breathless, and I’m not entirely sure it is relevant.
Robert Pippin is the Raymond W. and Martha Hilpert Gruner Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought, the department of philosophy, and the College at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, including Kant’s Theory of Form (1982), Hegel’s Idealism (1989), and Modernism as a Philosophical Problem (1991). His latest book, Henry James and Modern Moral Life (2000), appeared in German translation in 2003 as did a collection of his recent essays, Die Verwirklichung der Freiheit.
In my view, the critical in Critical Inquiry should not mean “judgmental” but rather “crucial” or “essential.” If the articles that appear in the journal are to be crucial to the collective understandings of the world advanced by the human sciences, they must draw up or help generate new modes of inquiry, not simply use contemporary academic (theoretical) paradigms to criticize the past or the present. While the language‐based theories that have dominated the academy for the last two decades have contributed important insights into the nature of representation, I think we now need to move beyond theories of representation to considerations of social processes, including the role that particular institutions play in linking individuals to larger social and political formations. In the range of positions sketched in the call for statements, this commitment probably puts me in the consolidation and refinement camp, for I think that many of the claims academics have made about the success of various critical inquiries overstate the accomplishments of approaches like New Historicism, structuralism, deconstruction, academic feminism, and identity‐based criticism.
Mary Poovey is Samuel Rudin University Professor of the Humanities and director of the Institute for the History of the Production of Knowledge at New York University. Her most recent books are A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society (1998) and an edited collection, The Financial System in Nineteenth‐Century Britain (2002).
The alliance of theory, criticism, and environmentalism, terrestrial and beyond the terrestrial, will flourish. Even without being apocalyptic, our sense that our survival depends upon environmentalism will become more intense. But theoreticians and critics will have to know science and technology, will have to do the arduously hard work it takes to learn these subjects and develop a sophisticated understanding of what nature means and how nature works. Nature has its changing representations, but it is far more than a simulacrum (or so I believe).
Who are the critics and theoreticians that we must read? The writers of speculative and science fiction. Will we continue to read? Oh, yes.
Catharine R. Stimpson is University Professor and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University. She is the founding editor of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. Her book on Gertrude Stein is forthcoming.
My admiration for this unique journal is such that it seems to me somewhat pointless to suggest another way or ways for so successful an undertaking. The fact is that Critical Inquiry is an indispensable journal—not the sole (fortunately) but the best of the journals that can be depended upon to provide critical theory from the much‐needed American perspective of the Left (and not the merely liberal humanist Left) incorporating any and every promising critical theory and any and almost every relevant subject matter. Like so many readers, I trust Critical Inquiry completely and depend on it. Moreover, I trust that it will continue its path, a critical theoretical journal of the Left and within that necessary theoretical perspective a methodologically pluralistic academic journal.
David Tracy is the Andrew Thomas Greeley and Grace McNichols Greeley Distinguished Service Professor in the divinity school and the Committees on Social Thought and Ideas and Methods at the University of Chicago.
It’s been obvious for many years that CI is an important instrument in the distribution of prestige and authority within the professions of the humanities. When I meet academics at other universities they often speak admiringly of the journal without saying much about particular arguments published in its pages. This is not surprising. The success of the journal entails some institutional status, I guess, but critical reflection on this particular function of the journal might be worthwhile. Insofar as it is an instrument of professional authority, it is probably subject to the same dynamics that drive other such institutions, despite the intelligence of its editors and contributors. If, however, the editors maintain a constant awareness of the dynamic whereby success institutionalizes ideas, texts, persons, and discursive styles, they might find opportunities to resist the marmorialization of the journal and the intellectual conformity that professional institutions tend to promote.
Robert von Hallberg is the Helen A. Regenstein Professor of English Languages and Literature, Germanic studies, comparative literature, and the College at the University of Chicago.
Many of our essayists fix on the senses as a revitalizing domain with which to chart theories and concepts of history, aesthetics, and experience. The words power and ideology don’t make it into these paradigms much, and questions shaped around social inequalities are either presumed or subsumed in these phrasings. Class inequality and labor‐related subjectivities, for example, are now increasingly embedded in capitalism and globalization; and, I think, but I’m not sure, critical race, feminist, and queer studies concerns are covered, covered over, or articulated in more general conceptualizations of embodiment, a term that designates the closeness to the body of social, experiential, and aesthetic affect. Because these sublimated categories of historical subordination were not formed as aesthetic events, and because they trouble the distance from the body that traditionally secures the prestige of critical thought, it is not surprising that a certain disenchantment would fall upon Critical Inquiry’s writers and readers, motivating returns to the elegance of a greater distance, whether couched as the new aestheticism, a better empiricism, or rigorous theory.
Lauren Berlant teaches English at the University of Chicago. She is the author of The Anatomy of National Fantasy: Hawthorne, Utopia, and Everyday Life (1991) and The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship (1997), the editor of Intimacy (2000), and a coeditor of Critical Inquiry.
When Paul de Man fussed about the future of critical inquiry, he deployed a meteorological trope: “The spirit of the times is not blowing in the direction of formalist and intrinsic criticism.”1 Once the romantic coinage has been transposed into something more effable (Hazlitt’s spirit of the age now behaving like the wind), you can literalize the trope and, in an effort to test the direction of theoretical breezes, simply moisten your index finger and hold it up.
Bill Brown is George M. Pullman Professor in the department of English and the Committee on the History of Culture at the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Material Unconscious (1996) and A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature (2002), editor of Reading the West (1997) and Things (2003), and a coeditor of Critical Inquiry.
I want to speak to two concerns that are visible in many of the comments circulated: the tendency to understand the present as a guide to the future—a historicizing endeavor—and the concern about being political (that is, working out the social purpose of criticism). Robert Pippin quotes Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “‘Philosophy is its own time comprehended in thoughts’” (p. 425). Criticism is not the same as rigorous philosophy. But it is, in our case, infected with the spirit of that statement from Hegel. Criticism must reflect its own time. It has to both interpret and speak to the world. That is the condition for effective critique. Critique has to figure out the now. “To live in and work for our century,” is how Catharine Stimpson puts it (p. 436). Our commentators share a concern about being able to name, designate, and describe the time or period we are passing through.
Dipesh Chakrabarty is Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor in history, South Asian languages and civilizations, and the College at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (2000) and a coeditor of Critical Inquiry.
Frances Ferguson puts her finger on a phenomenon of the present moment as disturbing as the systematic dismantling of social programs and civil liberties or the pursuit of self‐justifying wars: the cultivation, especially evident in the activities of the Bush administration, of a pervasive sense of helplessness in the American populace. What Lauren Berlant calls “political depression” has settled in. It accompanies and enables changes that ought to be unthinkable. In the face of this manipulated despair we need the energizing stimulus of critical thinking and, indeed, must continue vigorously to make the case for such thinking in part by welcoming it in an expanded variety of forms and voices. As Bill Brown notes, there may even be some necessary or saving virtue, a promise of future effectivity, in the apparent irrelevance of critical voices in a time when the rhetoric of leaders and the news media are almost unbearably, and certainly depressingly, tied to accomplished deeds.
Elizabeth Helsinger is the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor of English and Art History, chair of the English department at the University of Chicago, and a coeditor of Critical Inquiry. Her books include Ruskin and the Art of the Beholder (1982), Rural Scenes and National Representation, Britain 1815–1850 (1997), and, as coauthor, The Woman Question: Society and Literature in Britain and America, 1837–1883 (1983). She is currently completing a new study, Poetry and the Pre‐Raphaelite Arts: William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
What does it mean to talk about the “future of criticism” when the war with Iraq continues on a sickeningly consistent basis? Indeed, by the time these essays are printed, we will almost certainly still be at war. Thus the entire notion of a future may itself become embattled. If nothing else, we ought to ask how we can imagine the future when it is based on a given present; and the present at this moment in history is so changing the world we thought we knew that the present at present becomes very poor grounding for gazing at a hypothetical future. In other words, the future, in the sense that this symposium will be assuming, will necessarily take its cues from the present; and the present is precisely what lies in jeopardy.
Françoise Meltzer is professor of French and comparative literature, as well as professor in the divinity school at the University of Chicago, and coeditor of Critical Inquiry. She is the author of several books, the most recent of which is For Fear of the Fire: Joan of Arc and the Limits of Subjectivity (Chicago, 2001). She is presently finishing a book on 1848 in France and the notion of rupture.
We are living through Thermidor. The backlash is both political and intellectual; even within the academy it takes many forms. So do the responses to it; they are various and mutually incompatible. But if there is no consensus about what is wrong and what to do about it, still, it is possible to discern a common thread running through at least some of these statements. For want of a better phrase one might call it a renewed commitment to materiality. The refusal or the breaking of this commitment is, conversely, the distinctive tactic of reaction.
Richard Neer is associate professor of art history and the Committee on the Ancient Mediterranean World at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Style and Politics in Athenian Vase‐Painting (2002), as well as books and articles on Greek art, theories of style, and seventeenth‐century French painting. He is associate editor of Classical Philology and a coeditor of Critical Inquiry.
The practice of editing Critical Inquiry, then, has been one that has carefully avoided setting agendas or making predictions about the future. We might wish to imagine the shape of things to come (for example, the configurations of theory and critical practice in 2033), but our own critical practices tell us that we can’t and with good reason—theory and practice stand to each other in reciprocal relation; each assumes and responds to the other. Absent the motivation of having to come to terms with changes taking place on the ground (or of projecting effective means for bringing off such change), there is little point to theorizing and few, if any, dividends. Some years ago, a member of the faculty here informed me that he read theory all the time and felt obliged to change his own theoretical commitments on the average of once a week. Predictably, these shifting foundations have had no perceptible effect on his work, which constitutes a seamless body of publications.
Joel Snyder is a professor in the department of art history and in the Committees of General Studies in the Humanities, Visual Studies, and in the College at the University of Chicago. He is a coeditor of Critical Inquiry.
Any guise of critical neutrality or objectivity drops away when it comes to the death (and life) of Edward Said. Edward was one of the greatest scholar‐critics of his generation, opening up entire new fields of thought and research for thousands of people in and out of the academic world. But he was also my dear, cherished friend for twenty‐two years and was to me both an inimitable exemplar of the highest calling of the intellectual life and something like a teasing, needling older brother—smarter, better looking, better dressed, more sophisticated, always out ahead somewhere on horizons that for me were just coming into view.