Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Spring 2024

Volume 50 Issue 3
    • 375James A. Evans and Jacob G. Foster
    • How should we incorporate algorithms into humanistic scholarship? The typical approach is to clone what humans have done but faster, extrapolating expert insights to landfills of source material. But creative scholars do not clone tradition; instead, they produce readings that challenge closely held understandings. We theorize and then illustrate how to construct bad robots trained to surprise and provoke. These robots aren’t the most human but rather the most alien—not tame but dangerous. We explore the relationship between the reproduction of tradition and the generation of surprise and then show how formalizing a particular humanistic theory as a Bayesian prior allows us to identify readings that disrupt it through a process of algorithmic abduction. Among the exploding universe of surprising (and mostly ridiculous) possible readings, algorithmic efficiency allows us to select readings that nonetheless garner substantial support from the total archive and so merit interpretation and engagement. It is in such interaction between alien and human readers that meaning is made and understanding disturbed; it is by extending alien readings to novel texts that the scholarly community tests the value of those readings.

    • 402Andrew Franta and Sean Silver
    • This article asks what the emerging computational field of sentiment analysis can teach us about the sentimental novel, and vice versa. It argues that, despite humanistic skepticism about quantitative methods and sentiment analysis’s well-known limitations (in recognizing irony, for example), sentiment analysis can help us better to understand the novel form and the sentimental novel in particular. The literary approach to computational analysis taken in this article demonstrates the ability of sentiment analysis to link large-scale observations about text data to small-scale features of individual texts and reveals that the sentimental novel itself already constitutes an analytical tradition.

    • 425Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Grace Kyungwon Hong, and Lisa Nakamura
    • This article addresses how Asian racialization grounds contemporary social media experimentation on—and comprehensive surveillance of—users. To make this point, we focus on the relationship between the sentimentality of white benevolence as an expression of US empire and the social scientific history of sentiment analysis, which derives from early twentieth-century analyses of women workers and Japanese internment camps. The drive to “read” the inscrutable other—framed as a benevolent alternative to direct coercion—underlies methods to better capture and control individuals by understanding their reactions within experimental and disruptive environments. In tracing these histories, we contribute to larger efforts to unpack the centrality of racial formations to current forms of social media and to reveal how contemporary digital campaigns to protect Asian Americans sustain the mutually constitutive logic of white love and white hate. We conclude by reading for moments of Asian affective opacity as ways to move beyond the sentimental economy of love and hate that so easily feeds the digital economy of sentiment analysis. These examples of opacity make possible contradictory meanings to any particular affective response and makes possible practices of care that coexist with, but exceed, the extractive logics of sentiment analysis.

    • 452Anya Bernstein
    • Pleistocene Park is a large-scale science experiment in Arctic Siberia in the form of a future-oriented rewilding project with the goal of mitigating climate change. The park’s creators hypothesize that introducing large herbivores into the area will slow the thawing of permafrost. Using the approach of multispecies ethnography in attending to the nonhuman agencies at work in the project, I argue that the park differs from other rewilding projects, which are usually ecocentric, in emerging as a survivalist project with a distinct anthropocentric bent. Even so, the park’s survivalist goal for humans coexists with ontologies based on collaboration and mutual aid between humans and nonhumans and between organic and inorganic matter, with extensive agency assigned to nonhuman others. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork within the frame of the park’s various genealogies, I trace the project’s underlying assumptions in equal measure to the history of Russian science and to the park’s lead scientists’ experience of sociopolitical rupture following the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a case study, Pleistocene Park is especially suited to exploring issues of time and temporality, apocalypticism and redemption, and extinction and eternity, in addition to particular visions of the natural and the human.

    • 472Sean Keller
    • This article examines the temporal dimension of contemporary architecture, particularly in light of the climate crisis. Mikhail Bakhtin’s category of “adventure-time” is redeployed to describe the general chronotope of postmodernism, one in which contingency and spatiotemporal disjunctions are dominant. In contrast, this essay argues for a new emphasis on duration as a means of attending to temporal continuity. Potential paths for expanding architecture’s critical engagement with duration are explored.

    • 494Sarah Elizabeth Vaughn
    • This article focuses on Guyanese efforts in the ​postcolonial present to address environmental issues that have become increasingly complex in the face of an awareness of climate change. It opens with an account of how the preservation of Indigenous forests contributes to international efforts to reduce carbon, while making visible the instability that the discovery of oil and gas reserves in the seabed might portend for the Guyanese economy. Specifically, the article examines how engineers have historically confronted settler-colonial discourses about terra nullius unfold as they invest in sea defense. In doing so, the article foregrounds what engineers call slips—the slow or sudden displacement of a sea defense’s structural foundation. Slips are phenomena of energy conversion between land and sea. Rather than arguing for the claims of the pre-Anthropocene earth, the article suggests how many factors are in play in developing policy in the present, in an era of heightened awareness of the different forces in a changing climate.

    • 517Trevor Stark
    • Marcel Broodthaers’s A Film by Charles Baudelaire was produced in lieu of a research paper for a seminar on Baudelaire run by Lucien Goldmann in Brussels during the winter of 1969–70. The film and the seminar serve as points of departure for this article’s pursuit of three interrelated aims: first, to establish specific discursive coordinates for one of the most mystifying aspects of Broodthaers’s work, namely its pervasive and seemingly anachronistic references to nineteenth-century poetic modernism in general and to Baudelaire in particular; second, to take on the figure of the world for Broodthaers, both in his use of the world map in the Baudelaire film and several other works to be discussed and in the question of his stance regarding the world-shaping catastrophe of colonialism; and finally, to investigate the prominence of the concept of reification in Broodthaers’s theoretical lexicon in relation to its first formulation by Georg Lukács, its revival and dissemination by Goldmann, and Aimé Césaire’s account of colonialism’s “reification of the world.”

    • 543Benedict S. Robinson
    • I aim to explode a famous thesis about “the rise of fictionality,” argued in an essay of that title by Catherine Gallagher. I also have in mind related claims that the eighteenth or the nineteenth century first distinguished fiction from nonfiction or first differentiated literature from other modes of discourse. Gallagher places the rise of fictionality exactly where Ian Watt placed the rise of the novel—England, 1720 to 1740—and she connects it to the development of a credit economy. This article argues that the relationship between fiction and credit goes deeper than this, insofar as fiction was classically theorized in relation to modal concepts like probability and as such had a direct relationship to what Aristotle called endoxa: what is believed by all or by most. Probability was understood in relation not to what happens but to what is thought to happen: that is, to a socially constituted sense of what and who is credible. The article takes account of the multiple disciplines in which fictionality was theorized in the premodern period, but it emphasizes the centrality of rhetoric and the dissemination of a model of fictionality through the early modern grammar schools. Finally, it reads Shakespeare’s Othello to show that probable fiction was not only an available concept but a crucial tool for the analysis of social life. In Othello, ideologies of race and gender define the unequal terms on which credibility is established. Probable fiction is directly tied to the work of making and unmaking social worlds.