Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry


    • Orit Bashkin
    • Over the past three years, we have witnessed a new alliance between Jews and Muslims in an attempt to struggle against white supremacy and white nationalism. Since 1948, and especially since 1967, the Arab Israeli conflict has set apart Jews and Muslims over the question of Palestine and has likewise divided the American Left itself. After the 2016 elections, this state of affairs changed dramatically. From Senator Chuck Schumer, who tearfully protested President Donald Trump's travel ban on residents of several Muslim countries, to the rabbi of New York City’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, Sharon Kleinbaum, whose synagogue’s LGBTQ members appeared in Muslim Friday prayers in a show of solidarity, Jews evoked their own experiences as migrants and victims of racist persecution to protest American discrimination of Muslims.

    • Jonathan Kramnick
    • This essay makes a case for the truth claims of literary criticism by examining the epistemology of close reading. I look closely at skilled practices of quotation and ask what distinctive kind of knowledge they exhibit and create.

    • Peter Goodrich
    • A judge springs out of his car on the way to court in downtown Chicago and takes photographs of an inflatable rat. A while later he inserts these photographs into a decision involving another insufflated rodent. The case is about rats. “Giant, inflatable rats, which unions use to demonstrate their unhappiness with employers. . . . Cats too— inflatable fat cats, wearing business suits and pinkie rings, strangling workers.” Judge Easterbrook, for the majority, feeling perhaps that verbal description is inadequate to the enormity of the spectacle, or that such things should not be left to the imagination, then reproduced passport sized photographs of the rat and the cat in the judgment. The doctrinal issue was whether the inflatables, staked to the ground, were “structures” that conveyed a message in contravention of a Municipal Code which required a permit for such monumental symbolic effigies. Little is otherwise said about the feline and rodent in the majority judgment although it is of course legally notable that the decision contains precedential pictures of a rat and a cat, presumably as indicators of structural status, as lending visibility and providing a reality effect for the contested symbols of protest.

    • Leah Aronowsky
    • This article tells the story of the oil and gas origins of the Gaia hypothesis, the theory that the earth is a homeostatic system. It shows how Gaia’s key assumption—that the climate is a fundamentally stable system, able to withstand perturbations—emerged as a result of a collaboration between the theory’s progenitor, James Lovelock, and Royal Dutch Shell in response to Shell’s concerns about the effects of its products on the climate. The article explains how Lovelock elaborated the Gaia hypothesis and gave it evidential depth through a series of Royal Dutch Shell-funded research projects meant to identify organisms whose biological activities might double as climate-regulating mechanisms. The article goes on to show how this research subsequently laid the foundation for a distinct genre of climate change denialism, in which corporations sowed doubt not by denying the phenomenon of global warming but by naturalizing it.

    • Julia Nordblad
    • An increasing number of scholars in various disciplines grapple with the issue of how the complex threats to the planet’s life support systems should best be understood and addressed. This essay compares two dominating conceptualizations of the current crisis, the Anthropocene and climate change, with respect to how they can be deployed to help think about dynamics of political action.

    • Bina Gogineni and Kyle Nichols
    • A couple of years ago, we convened an event highlighting the connections among global climate, global health, and global culture. One of our copanelists was the renowned climatologist Ben Santer who led the group of scientists in the 1995 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that first officially acknowledged anthropogenic climate change. In his presentation, Santer told the story of the twelve words that changed history: “The balance of evidence suggests a discernable human influence on global climate.”

    • Sabine Arnaud
    • "If, while staying in a foreign country, in Constantinople for example or in Persia, you wanted to dress in the national costume, would the artisan you would call for worry about the shape of your French garment? Would he count the number of its different pieces? Would he consider anything other than your size and the proportions of your body? . . . . Imitate him: words and signs are the simple garments of thought."

      With this anecdote, Rémi Valade introduced his 1854 work Essai sur la grammaire du langage naturel des signes à l’usage des instituteurs de sourds-muets avec planches et figures (Essay on the Grammar of the Natural Language of Signs for the Use of Teachers of Deaf-Mutes), illuminating the distinction to be made between the syntax of sign language and that of speech. Sign language, he argued, should not translate spoken French literally, but stand in direct relation to thought. With this salvo, he took a powerful position against the positions of the first celebrated French teachers Abbé Charles-Michel de l’Épée and Abbé Sicard and put forth the development of another sign language tradition, based on the autonomy of sign language. This was not a move to be taken lightly, as with this argument he was essentially establishing himself in opposition to the first two leaders of the first school to develop pedagogical techniques based on the use of sign language, which served as a model for the development of pedagogy for the deaf in Europe and in the United States.

    • Tom Mitchell
    • This essay was written in the present tense about a tense present. Located somewhere between the time it takes to read this sentence and the collective insanity Friedrich Nietzsche ascribes to an epoch, it is an impossible or at best an experimental project, constantly overtaken by events that require rethinking and rewriting in real time. It is written in what William James called “the specious present," which “has a vaguely vanishing backward and forward fringe," a “saddle-back . . . from which we look in two directions into time." James’s metaphor suggests that time is a horse that one must ride backward, rather like Cacasenno, the peasant clown of Italian folktales, twisting in his saddle to get a glimpse of the scene as it passes, and only the slightest, peripheral intuition of what lies ahead, in the future.

      Read the uncorrected proof pages here.