Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Autumn 1990

Volume 17 Issue 1
    • 1Cheryl Herr
    • Like all fields of inquiry, Irish studies has its own traditions, its own ways of organizing information. even the most adventurous of the native practitioners tend carefully to maintain disciplinary boundaries when presenting evidence to sustain a thesis, and American scholars have used Irish practice as their frame of reference. This essay, which engages with the time-honored and increasingly vexed enterprise of defining “Irishness,” introduces play into these traditions both in spirit and in methodology. An alternative approach to analyzing Ireland might foreground the underlying assumptions about social relations and historical patterns that link Irish art and writing across diverse fields of inquiry. Exploring the many rhetorics of Ireland might make it impossible, for example, for those involved in the essential task of historical and scientific inquiry—to overlook the submessages of popular Irish representations.

      I begin, obliquely, with a contrast between American and Irish censorship of music videos. My inquiry targets some fundamental differences between American and Irish appropriations of the body, from which the essay suggests symmetries between the psychological development of individuals in Ireland and one stage in what might be termed the psychohistory of Irish culture. As an experimental, semidisruptive piece that challenges disciplinary lines in the field and introduces fresh theoretical categories, this essay reaches toward a new Irish studies.

      See also: Thomas Flanagan, Yeats, Joyce, and the Matter of Ireland

      Cheryl Herr, associate professor of English at the University of Iowa, has published Joyce’s Anatomy of Culture (1986) and For the Land They Loved: Irish Political Melodramas, 1890-1925 (1990). Two of her current projects involve spatial organization in Ireland and the syntax of English modernism.

    • 35Arnold I. Davidson
    • During the last several years, we have witnessed a reopening of questions concerning National Socialism whose full scope and implications have yet to be determined. The Historikerstreit has provoked new discussions of the problem of the specificity or uniqueness of Auschwitz. While raising general methodological issues about the nature of historical explanation and understanding, the Historikerstreit has also revolved around specific questions concerning the role of moral concepts and memory in assessing National Socialism.1 Disclosures about Paul de Man’s wartime writings and further examination of Martin Heidegger’s involvement with National Socialism have led to broader consideration of the relations among philosophy, theory, and politics, and have forced us to rethink the problem of intellectual responsibility with renewed urgency.2 These and related topics were at the center of a major international conference, “Nazism and the Final Solution,” organized by Saul Friedländer last April, which took as its organizing theme the limits of ethical, aesthetic, and historical representation of the Final Solution.3

      In light of these continuing discussions, we are publishing two remarkable essays written during the early years of National Socialism. To the often-posed challenge, how could one be expected to respond lucidly to Nazism in the early 1930s?, these essays by Robert Musil and Emmanuel Levinas constitute, by the sheer power of their insights, decisive answers. Although significantly different in approach, these essays show not only that one could recognize the reality of National Socialism as it was coming to power, but indicate further that analyses of permanent value could be formulated virtually from the beginning. Musil and Levinas serve to remind us concretely of the capabilities of the human mind and of its responsibilities—capabilities and responsibilities that even the most severe political circumstances need not overwhelm.

      1. For documents from and discussion of the Historikstreit, see the special issue of New German Critique 44 (Spring/Summer 1988).

      2. On Paul de Man, see Critical Inquiry 14 (Spring 1988): 590-652, and Critical Inquiry 15 (Summer 1989): 704-44, 764-873. On Martin Heidegger, see Critical Inquiry 15 (Winter 1989): 407-88.

      3. The proceedings of this conference are forthcoming.

      See also: Arnold I. Davidson, How to Do the History of Psychoanalysis: A Reading of Freud's "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality"  ·  Arnold I. Davidson, Miracles of Bodily Transformation, or How St. Francis Received the Stigmata

      Arnold I. Davidson, executive editor of Critical Inquiry and associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, is currently Marta Sutton Weeks Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center.

    • 46Robert Musil
    • The orientation and leadership of the revolutionary “renewal of the German mind,” whose witnesses and participants we are, point in two directions. On, after seizing power, would like to talk the mind into helping out with internal development and promises it a golden age if it joins up; indeed it even offers it the prospect of a certain voice in decision making. The other direction, on the contrary, attests its mistrust of the intellect by declaring that the revolutionary process will continue indefinitely, and (especially in the short run) has room for the mind in its task; or it might also assure the intellect that it is not needed at all because a new mind has already turned up, and that the old one might as well jump into the fire and either burn to ashes or purify itself into its elements. What has happened up to the moment these words are being written leaves no doubt that the second direction is on the march, the first its musical accompaniment. Nor can it be otherwise than that a Movement [National Socialism] that has manifested itself so powerfully demands above all that the intellect complete assimilate and subordinate itself to the Movement. But then again, it is possible that the intellect cannot do this without renouncing itself. Surely there must be some sort of boundary here, since nothing happens that is not contingent; so it is a good test for the intellect that today it has everywhere been saddled with a kind of kangaroo-court mentality that judges it not according to its own laws, but according to the law of the Movement.

      See also: Jürgen Habermas, Work and Weltanschauung: The Heidegger Controversy from a German Perspective

      Robert Musil (1880-1942) made a decisive contribution to twentieth-century European literature. Among his works available in English are Young Törless, Posthumous Papers of a Living Author, and The Man Without Qualities. Burton Pike is professor of comparative literature at the Graduate School of the City University of New York. With Sophie Wilkins, he has edited and translated a new edition of Musil’s novel The Man without Qualities, available in 199. He is the author of Robert Musil: An Introduction to His Work (1972) and The Image of the City in Modern Literature (1981). David S. Luft teaches modern European intellectual history at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Robert Musil and the Crisis of European Culture, 1880-1912 (1980).

    • 62Emmanuel Levinas
    • The philosophy of Hitler is simplistic [primaire]. But the primitive powers that burn within it burst open its wretched phraseology under the pressure of an elementary force. They awaken the secret nostalgia within the German soul. Hitlerism is more than a contagion or a madness; it is an awakening of elementary feelings.

      But from this point on, this frighteningly dangerous phenomenon becomes philosophically interesting. For these elementary feelings harbor a philosophy. They express a soul's principal attitude towards the whole of reality and its own destiny. They predetermine or prefigure the meaning of the adventure that the soul will face in the world.

      The philosophy of Hitlerism therefore goes beyond the philosophy of Hitlerians. It questions the very principles of a civilization. The conflict is played out not only between liberalism and Hitlerism. Christianity itself is threatened in spite of the careful attentions or Concordats that the Christian churches took advantage of when Hitler's regime came to power.

      But it is not enough to follow certain journalists in distinguishing between Christian universalism and racist particularism: a logical contradiction cannot judge a concrete event. The meaning of a logical contradiction that opposes two forms of ideas only shows up fully if we go back to their source, to intuition, to the original decision that makes them possible. It is in this spirit that we are going to set forth the following reflections.

      See also: Emmanuel Levinas, As If Consenting to Horror  ·  Roberto Esposito, Totalitarianism or Biopolitics? Concerning a Philosophical Interpretation of the Twentieth Century

      Emmanuel Levinas has been professor of philosophy at the Ecole Normale Superieure Israelite de Paris and at the University of Paris I (Sorbonne). Among his books that have been translated into English are Totality and Infinity, Ethics and Infinity, Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence, and The Levinas Reader. His essay "As If Consenting to Horror" appeared in the Winter 1989 issue of Critical Inquiry. Sean Hand is lecturer in French at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. He is the editor of The Levinas Reader (1989) and the translator of Levinas's Difficult Freedom (forthcoming). He is currently completing a book on Michel Leiris.

    • 72Michael Camille
    • This new nonexistence of the Très Riches Heures is, I would argue, crucial to the existence of its replications. It is essential for each numbered copy of the limited facsimile edition that the original manuscript not be available for all to see. Most art historians, no matter how "contextual" or theoretical, would still emphasize the necessity of looking at the objects they study with that oddly singular, egocentrically well-trained "eye"/I. Left, however, with only the piles of reproductions I am forced to ask myself and my students not what is the Très Riches Heures (a nonentity hidden somewhere in a museum vault) but what are the books, pamphlets, postcards, facsimiles, and the laser discs that scholars working on the manuscript at Chantilly are now shown instead of the original? The manuscript now has the status of one of those hypothetical "lost prototypes," beloved of scholars of manuscript illumination, that can only be seen refracted in its subsequent copies. Just as hypothesizing on the influence of early medieval "lost models" on existing works has always seemed to me a futile approach to medieval book painting, and preferring to view every manuscript as an object in its own right, I am not concerned with the lost and now forever invisible Très Riches Heures itself but rather with the power of its many reproductions.

      See also: Robert S. Nelson, The Slide Lecture, or the Work of Art "History" in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

      Michael Camille is associate professor of art history at the University of Chicago and the author of The Gothic Idol: Ideology and Image- Making in Medieval Art (1989). He is working on a study of medieval marginal images entitled Image on the Edge (forthcoming).

    • 108Jack Amariglio, Stephen Resnick, and Richard Wolff
    • The existence and unity of a discipline called economics reside in the eye and mind of the beholder. The perception of economics's unity and disciplinarity itself arises in some, but not all, of the different schools of thought that we would loosely categorize as economic. Indeed, as we hope to show, the presumption of unity and disciplinarity—the idea that there is a center or “core” of propositions, procedures, and conclusions or a shared historical “object” of theory and practice—is suggested in the concepts and methods of some schools of economic thought, but is opposed by others. Further, we argue that the portrayal of economics as a discipline with distinct boundaries is often a discursive strategy by one school or another to hegemonize the field of economic discourse. In this way, the issue of the existence of an economics discipline and its principles of unity or dispersion is in part a political question. Its effects are felt in the hiring and firing of economics professors and practitioners, the determination of what comprises an economics curriculum, the determination of what is a legitimate economic argument and what is not, the dispensation of public and private grant monies, and the differential entry into or exclusion from ideological, political, and economic centers of power and decision making.

      Our view is that no discipline of economics exists. Or, rather, no unified discipline exists. The “discipline” of economics is actually an agonistic and shifting field of fundamentally different and often conflicting discourses. The dispersion and divisions that exist between the schools of thought we discuss here as “economic” may have some regularities. But we do not see closer contiguity of these economic schools when placed on a horizontal scale than, to take just one example, among all of the many different "disciplinary" forms of Marxian thought. That is, in our view, Marxian economic thought shares more concepts, approaches, and methods—may have more discursive regularity—with Marxian literary theory than do Marxian economic thought and neoclassical economic theory.

      See also: Scott Cutler Shershow, Of Sinking: Marxism and the "General" Economy

      Jack Amariglio is associate professor of economics at Merrimack College and the editor of Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture, and Society. He is working on a book entitled Modernism and Postmodernism in Economics with Arjo Klamer. Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff are professors of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Their recent coauthored books are Knowledge and Class: A Marxian Critique of Political Economy (1987) and Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical (1987).

    • 138Walter Frisch
    • The most common approach in writings on music and Jugendstil has been to isolate several aspects of the visual art, either of technique or of subject matter, and to seek parallels in music of the fin de siècle. Historians of art and design seem to agree on at least three basic elements of Jugendstil: the primacy of the dynamic, flowing line; flatness or two dimensionality (Jugendstil has been called a Flächenkunst); and the profuseness of ornament. All these features are neatly embodied in a 1900 drawing by Theodor Heine (fig. 1), in which the ostensible subject matter, the dancing lady, is dissolved in the undulating linearity of her dress and the swirling smoke or incense. In this example, as in the celebrated "Cyclamen" tapestry by the Munich artist Hermann Obrist (fig. 2), line and ornament are largely liberated from their representational obligations and are manipulated in an almost abstract fashion. As Robert Schmutzler has remarked, the tapestry is "on the borderline dividing the symbol and the ornament, between abstract dynamism and the representation of a distinctive organism."4

      This aspect of Obrist's tapestry was realized as early as 1895 by the critic Georg Fuchs, who wrote in the journal Pan, "'These embroideries do not intend to "mean" anything, to say anything.'" Fuchs went on to describe the dynamic motion of the image in terms that have nothing to do with cyclamens per se: "'This racing movement seems like the abrupt, powerful convolution of the lash of a whip. One moment it appears as the image of a forceful outburst of natural elements; it is a lightning bolt. Another moment it resembles the defiant signature of a great man, a conqueror, an intellect who decrees new laws through new documents.''"5 Fuchs's metaphor of the whiplash or Peitschenhieb, has stuck; Obrist's tapestry is today known principally by that name.

      4. Robert Schmutzler, Art Nouveau (New York, 1962), p. 193.

      5. Georg Fuchs, quoted in Peg Weiss, Kandinsky in Munich: The Formative Jugendstil Years (Princeton, N.J., 1979), p. 33; hereafter abbreviated KM; translation modified.

      See also: Peter Uwe Hohendahl, Progress Revisited: Adorno's Dialogue with Augustine, Kant, and Benjamin

      Walter Frisch is associate professor of music at Columbia University and author of Brahms and the Principle of Developing Variation (1984). He is presently completing a book on the early tonal works of Arnold Schoenberg.

    • 162Bruce F. Murphy
    • The marginality of poetry in American culture has been taken for granted at least since the dawn of the modernist period, when Walt Whitman printed his first volume of poetry at his own expense. More recently, it has become an article of faith that there is a real popular audience for poetry, but somewhere else-in the East. Literary journals, the popular press, and publishers have made household names of a handful of Eastern European writers: Czeslaw Milosz, Joseph Brodsky, Zbigniew Herbert. One is regaled with chestnuts about ordinary people in the Eastern bloc who care about "the Word," manuscripts passed from hand to hand, even poems preserved orally. Inevitably, the questions are revived: Where are the great American poets? Has American poetry been reduced to private confessions and personal trivia? Why is it that our poetry lacks that public, political relevance? The answer to such questions is often that we do not have the weight of History on our backs, the state oppression under which, as Milosz says, "poetry is no longer alienated," no longer "a foreigner in society," and can become more important than bread.1 But what has not surfaced in the vaunted "poetry and politics" debate is the extent to which our homage to victims of censorship everywhere has become a fetishization of totalitarianism, and a self-serving one at that. The mythology of our freedom, unbounded and unmediated, depends precisely on this other world, on what happens over there.

      1. Czeslaw Milosz, The Witness of Poetry (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), p. 95; hereafter abbreviated WP.

      See also: Harold Bloom, Poetry, Revisionism, Repression

      Bruce F. Murphy's work has appeared in the Paris Review, Pequod, and An Gael. He has completed a manuscript of poems and with Friedrich Ulfers is writing a study of Friedrich Nietzsche.

    • 174Lee Clark Mitchell
    • What does it mean to be black in America, to exist as a dark physical body, a "colored" voice, a stigmatized being in a society that sees, hears, and acts according to a set of bleaching assumptions? Versions of that question have echoed across our historical landscape ever since James-town, but rarely have they figured so forcibly as in the 1890s, when the Supreme Court upheld Ferguson over Plessy, Jim Crow laws spread through the South, degenerationists elaborated the "problem of the Negro," imperialists hoisted the "white man's burden" of "little brown brothers" abroad, and racial lynching peaked at an all-time high that incited a national scandal. Any radical hopes for Reconstruction after the Civil War had long since vanished by the years of the fin de siècle. And a century later, the gains of a "Second Reconstruction" movement for civil rights have likewise eroded, with unparalleled "hypersegregation" accentuating new patterns of black poverty, unemployment, family disintegration, homelessness, and addiction.1 Being black, in other words, has meant—and, to a considerable degree, continues to mean—being excluded from white society, white prerogatives, even white discourse itself, in a process whose effects insidiously appear to legitimate the very causes that produce them.


      1. C. Vann Woodward first warned of this unsettling repetition of nineteenth-century patterns in his 1965 suggestion that the civil rights movement might constitute a "Second Reconstruction" (Woodward, "From the First Reconstruction to the Second," Harper's Magazine, Apr. 1965, pp. 127-33). In his recent reassessment of the troubling implications of that prediction, he notes how ghetto speech is growing more distinct from standard English: "The result is a vicious circle in which the longer blacks are made victims of the white stereotypes that foster hypersegregation, the more they appear to conform to the stereotypes that were used to justify segregation in the first place, and the deeper victims sink in isolation" (Woodward, "The Crisis of Caste," The New Republic, 6 Nov. 1989, p. 44).

      See also: Elizabeth Abel, Black Writing, White Reading: Race and the Politics of Feminist Interpretation

      Lee Clark Mitchell, professor of English at Princeton University, is the author of Witnesses to a Vanishing America: The Nineteenth-Century Response (1981) and Determined Fictions: American Literary Naturalism (1989). He is currently working on the formula western in a book tentatively titled "Writing Westward: Imagining America beyond the Frontier."

    • 193Michael Fried
    • My basic supposition is that the destruction of the little Jew's face and hands in Vandover and the Brute images the irruption of mere (or brute) materiality within the scene of writing-that instead of Crane's double process of eliciting and repressing that materiality, what is figured in the shipwreck scene is a single, unstoppable process of materialization, involving both the act of representation (the beating of the helpless Jew) and the marking tool and actual page (the stump of the oar, the Jew's "white and writhing" face), the result of which can only be the defeat of the very possibility of writing (as embodied in the chilling phrase, "When his hands were gone").

      Here it might be objected that such a reading derives whatever plausibility it has from the comparison with Crane, and in a sense this is true: my claim is precisely that it's only against the background of Crane's seemingly bizarre but, in this regard, normative or centric enterprise that the wider problematic of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literary "impressionism" can be made out. In another sense, however, the comparison with Crane involves an appeal to issues—notably that of materialism—which have long been basic to Norris criticism and which the recent work of Walter Benn Michaels has brought to a new level of conceptual sophistication and historical refinement. Specifically, the title essay in Michaels's book, The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism, interprets both McTeague and Vandover and the Brute in terms of a conflict between materiality and representation that found contemporary expression both in the debates over the gold and silver standards versus paper money and in the vogue for trompe l'oeil painting (in which the objects that a given picture represents are as it were directly contrasted with the paint and canvas the picture is made of)." In this regard a crucial moment in Vandover's regression from man to beast is his discovery that, as a painter, he has lost the ability to represent nature three-dimensionally; Michaels treats this development as equivalent to "replac[ing] the painting with nature itself" (that is, with the shallowly three-dimensional canvas), and goes on to remark: "But this ... is ultimately a distinction without a difference. Vandover the artist can so easily devolve into Vandover the brute precisely because both artist and brute are already committed to a naturalist ontology—in money, to precious metals; in art, to three-dimensionality. The moral of Vandover's regression, from this standpoint, is that it can only take place because . . . it has already taken place. Discovering that man is a brute, Norris repeats the discovery that paper money is just paper and that a painting of paper money is just paint" (GS, pp. 166-67). My reading of the shipwreck passage would thus be consistent with what Michaels calls Norris's "trompe l'oeil materialism" (GS, p. 167), though the nearly sadomasochistic violence of that passage may be taken to imply that materialism's consequences for writing threaten to be even more disastrous than they are for painting. But rather than analyze the role of writing as such in Vandover, which would involve an intricate discussion not just of that novel and McTeague but also of Michaels's essay, I want to turn to another, lesser-known book by Norris, in which a thematic of writing plays a conspicuous and more nearly univocal role: A Man's Woman (1899).

      See also: Michael Fried, The Structure of Beholding in Courbet's "Burial at Ornans"  ·  Henry Staten, Conrad's Mortal Word

      Michael Fried is J. R. Herbert Boone Professor of Humanities and director of the Humanities Center at the Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book is Courbet's Realism (1990). He is currently at work on a book to be titled Manet's Modernism.