Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 2024

Volume 50 Issue 4
    • 585Yota Batsaki
    • Plants are edging closer to the center of critical inquiry in the Anthropocene because they are intimately tied to legacies of settler colonialism, forced migration, related practices of extractive capitalism, and their environmental and human harm. Ostensibly sessile, plants travel constantly through their adaptations to ensure their survival and reproduction. In the modern period, this movement was taken to unprecedented scale by humans, triggering massive displacement of people and disruption to ecosystems. Among the many instances of plant movement, the scandalous mobility of invasives unsettles us because it exposes the worst excesses of the Anthropocene. This essay focuses on the practice of multimedia artist Precious Okoyomon, whose installations feature prominently kudzu, the most notorious weed in the US. The highest concentrations of kudzu are found in the former Cotton Belt—Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi—making it cotton’s unlikely successor. The essay analyzes how Okoyomon’s kudzu installations explore the dark side of the landscape, peeling off layers of human and environmental harm while acknowledging the resilience of more-than-human life. But a focus on invasive species also challenges plant theory’s celebration of entanglement, showing how the theoretical effort to produce the plant as a generalized concept bumps against the contingencies of its natural history in time and place, its ontological slipperiness, its ethical ambiguity.

    • 610S. Pearl Brilmyer
    • This article explores the contributions of nineteenth-century philosophers of habit to understanding the rigidity of desire. Focusing on the work of Félix Ravaisson, I argue that Of Habit (1838) makes sense of something that much queer theory fails to address in its investment in the subversion of identity: the tendency of desire to return to known objects and follow well-worn paths, a tendency that does not always result in the affirmation of norms or the consolidation of power. Of Habit offers a new set of terms—crystallization, patterning, and necessity, among others—for comprehending the limits of desire’s flexibility without naturalizing gender or sexuality as permanently fixed or inherent. In so doing, it offers an alternative to queer theories that, indebted to Judith Butler’s performativity thesis, attribute the rigidities of sexual life entirely to the productive power of cultural prohibitions and discursively constructed norms.

    • 640Noel Blanco Mourelle
    • This article focuses on the translation that Guy Debord made of the poem Coplas a la muerte de su padre, a work by fifteenth-century Castilian court poet Jorge Manrique. Despite the apparent distance between translator and translated, Debord’s interest is a product of his fascination with moments of historical crisis and their transformative possibilities. The Debordian way of confronting such moments and of considering Manrique’s work as a product of one of them is framed within a historical model that collapses the synchronic and the diachronic through textual montage, juxtaposing fragments in an associative way. Debord develops this form of montage in his best-known works, such as The Society of the Spectacle. In dialogue with this peculiar philosophy of history, the article argues that the translation is part of a moment of interest in Spanish culture post-May ’68 in Debord’s work and should be read as a part of the Champ Libre publishing project, financed by Debord’s film impresario, patron, and friend Gerard Lebovici. The ultimate reason for his interest in Spanish culture is the idealization of the political possibilities of a society that, between the seventies and the early eighties when Debord translates Manrique, is in the midst of the transition from dictatorship to democracy.

    • 659Marcie Frank, Kevin Pask, and Ned Schantz
    • This article draws upon the rich and diverse history of situation to develop a new tool for narrative analysis across media and form. The term has played a role in theater, creative writing, and screenwriting; as situatedness, it has been linked to the categories of identity; and it has been used to chart relations between social and aesthetic experience. Seizing upon the way situation emphasizes emergent dynamics, we theorize it as a narrative concept by distinguishing it from plot, genre, and context. Identifying its minimal conditions as two elements in relation with something at stake, we explore what situation can offer in capsule readings of Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

    • 677András Kiséry
    • This article discusses how everyday speech was mediated in early modern England: how speech was registered and remediated through various cultural techniques making it recognizable as a distinct linguistic medium and how these processes intersected with literary writing. A contribution to the study of the early modern English mediascape and its literary ramifications, this essay is also an effort to think historically about media change and literary transformation both as they happen and as they become visible over time. In what follows, I trace the relationship between speech and the cultural techniques that engage with speech as the medium of everyday face-to-face interaction. Although my question is ultimately about speech, not poetry, and although the larger question I am interested in is not about artistic production but about media and cultural techniques more broadly, literary—poetic and especially dramatic—writing is nevertheless central to my essay. My argument grows out of the insights of twentieth-century literary criticism, whose observations about the relationship between speech and writing in 1600 were recognizably informed by the discourse network of their own moment and by their own concerns with modernity and its origins. So even as I am making an argument about the media constellation of a particular moment (an argument that could perhaps be described as crudely historicist), I am also curious about how the features of that moment became visible under different historical conditions or were imprinted by different media constellations and also how the defamiliarizing effect of the new may have made the past look familiar.

    • 703Natalia Cecire and Samuel Solomon
    • This article analyzes the recent growth of popular interest in fungi across commerce, design, wellness, fiction, and film. Focusing on the ways that fungi are said to take the form of distributed networks, we argue that it is primarily through aesthetics that fungi are marshaled to address ecological and capitalist crisis.

    • 725Hang Tu
    • This article brings Leo Strauss’s “Persecution and the Art of Writing” thesis to bear on the crisis of independent thinking in modern Chinese intellectual history. It argues that while heterodox Chinese thinkers frequently practiced “writing between the lines” to evade censorship, conformist minds were equally adept at utilizing the charm of the clandestine—deception, fabrication, and self-mythologization—for their own agendas. To illustrate the peculiar tension between conformity and dissent, I focus on two Chinese thinkers who exploited esotericism at crucial junctures of The People’s Republic of China’s history: Liu Xiaofeng (劉小楓, 1956–), a conservative theologian who spawned a Chinese Straussian School to preach antiliberal doctrines in contemporary China; and Chen Yinke (陳寅恪, 1890–1960), a cultural traditionalist who resisted Marxist doctrines throughout the Mao era. Both Liu and Chen conceived of the public as a hostile and conformist crowd and deliberately developed special techniques of writing that contain multiple levels of significance—Liu named his variant “subtle words with profound meaning” (微言大義) while Chen called his “inner history from the heart” (心史). Though formally similar, these two approaches took Strauss’s thesis in drastically different directions: while Chen deployed a rhetorical smoke screen of obscure references to tease the censor, Chinese Straussians wielded double teaching to conceal the conformism of their politics from the public.

    • 748Rosalind C. Morris
    • “Respirators, not furnished” is a phrase that appears in Muriel Rukeyser’s poetic sequence The Book of the Dead, addressed to the catastrophic silicosis epidemic that afflicted miners of the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel. Using the example of Rukeyser’s text, which I taught as part of a course on extractionism during the early months of the pandemic and again in its aftermath, the essay asks what it means to read on the precipice of disaster and what disasters of reading are threatened by our current moment.