Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Autumn 1991

Volume 18 Issue 1
    • 1Jerome Bruner
    • Surely since the Enlightenment, if not before, the study of mind has centered principally on how man achieves a “true” knowledge of the world. Emphasis in this pursuit has varied, of course: empiricists have concentrated on the mind’s interplay with an external world of nature, hoping to find the key in the association of sensations and ideas, while rationalists have looked inward to the powers of mind itself for the principles of right reason. The objective, in either case, has been to discover how we achieve “reality,” that is to say, how we get a reliable fix on the world, a world that is, as it were, assumed to be immutable and, as it were, “there to be observed.”

      This quest has, of course, had a profound effect on the development of psychology, and the empiricist and rationalist traditions have dominated our conceptions of how the mind grows and how it gets its grasp on the “real world.” Indeed, at midcentury Gestalt theory represented the rationalist wing of this enterprise and American learning theory the empiricist. Both gave accounts of mental development as proceeding in some more or less linear and uniform fashion from an initial incompetence in grasping reality to a final competence, in one case attributing it to the work out of internal processes or mental organization, and in the other to some unspecified principle of reflection by which—whether through reinforcement, association, or conditioning—we came to respond to the world “as it is.” There have always been dissidents who challenged these views, but conjectures about human mental development have been influenced far more by majoritarian rationalism and empiricism than by these dissident voices.

      See also: Hayden White, The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality

      Jerome Bruner is research professor of psychology at New York University, where he is also serving as Meyer Visiting Professor of Law. His most recent book, Acts of Meaning, appeared in 1990. In 1987 he received the Balzan Prize for “a lifetime contribution to the study of human psychology.”

    • 22Nina Baym
    • All the early advocates of women’s education, male and female, had proposed history as a central subject in women’s education—perhaps as the central subject. They envisaged it as a substitute for novel reading, which they viewed as strengthening women’s mental weakness (if the oxymoron may be permitted) and encouraging them in unrepublican habits of idleness, extravagance, and daydreaming.6 Many prominent women educators wrote history, among them Pierce, Rowson, and Willard. But besides such history writing and history advocacy by materialist educational reformers, American women wrote history in other modes and contexts, and it is on these that I want to focus now.

      Speculating on history as a woman’s writing practice from the earliest years of the republic, my approach is purely literary in taking for granted, but considering it unimportant, that by present-day standards none of these women could have been “good” historians. More generally, I supposed that insofar as our present-day definition of literature or, more generally, of writing, invokes such forms as poem, play, story, and novel—and insofar as the feminist enterprise of recovering women’s writing further emphasizes such private, putatively unpublished forms as journal, diary, and letters—we have been instructed to perceive women writers as largely sealed off from public discourse, writing (if they wrote at all) from somewhere outside the public sphere. This currently dominant view of women’s writing may be an inadvertent artifact of an unself-conscious, individualistic, curiously romantic definition of writing even among postmodernist critics; or, it may be a strategic view designed to focus attention on and valorize previously silenced or presently new forms of utterance. In contrast, to encompass diverse, already published, programmatically public instances of women’s writing in our definition is to begin to see how often and how openly (albeit from certain ideological positions—but manifestly not the one taken here—how unsatisfactorily) American women have written in such forms. We then begin to recover a different sort of writing woman from the madwoman in the attic and acquire materials with which to begin constructing a different narrative of American women’s literary history.

      See also: Catherine Gallagher, A History of the Precedent: Rhetorics of Legitimation in Women's Writing  ·  Susan Schweik, Writing War Poetry like a Woman

      Nina Baym is Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois, Urbana. She is the author of many books and articles on American and feminist literary topics.

    • 42William Flesch
    • A tension between content and form can even be said to be essential to the effect of a great deal of rhymed poetry in English. William Wimsatt’s wonderful essay on “One Relation of Rhyme to Reason” argues precisely that rhymes in English poetry work when differences of meaning and of part of speech tend to counterpoint similarities of sound.3 Rhyming nouns together, for example, ought to be avoided, since the salutory tension will arise from the fact that a difference in grammatical function will coexist with sameness of sound. This means that prosodical structure does not mirror content, and that even in rhymed poetry the sense may be variously drawn out. Empson makes the complementary remark that English is blessed with the fact that subjects and verbs cannot in general rhyme:

      The crucial thing about English, as a language for poetry, is that you cannot rhyme the subject with the verb, because either ‘the cat distracts’ and ‘the nerves swerve’ or ‘the cats distract’ and ‘the nerve swerves’; this bit of grammar has been enormously helpful to English poetry by forcing it away from platitude.4

      This means that the grammar of rhymed poems will not simply be determined by the rhyme scheme but will tend to be a kind of counterpoint to that scheme, since the predicate is kept from rhyming with the subject.

      · 3. William Wimsatt, “On Relation of Rhyme to Reason,” The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry (Lexington, Ky., 1954), pp. 152-66. In this essay, anticipating some of the deconstructive claims he came to find too extreme at the end of his life, Wimsatt writes that “verse in general, and more particularly rhyme, make their special contribution to poetic structure … [by imposing] upon the logical pattern of expressed argument a kind of fixative counterpattern of alogical implication” (p. 153). See also Wimsatt, “Verbal Style: Logical and Counterlogical,” The Verbal Icon, pp. 200-217.

      4. Empson, “Rhyme,” Argufying, p. 136.

      See also: Harold Bloom, Poetry, Revisionism, Repression  ·  Oren Izenberg, Language Poetry and Collective Life

      William Flesch teaches English at Brandeis University and is the author of The Heart of Generosity: Largess and Loss in Herbert, Shakespeare, and Milton (forthcoming).

    • 64John Koethe
    • A striking fact of our current literary culture is the estrangement between poets and critics and reviewers of contemporary poetry on the one hand, and proponents of that loosely defined set of doctrines, methodologies, and interests that goes by the name of “theory” on the other. There are individual exceptions to this on both sides, and one can find counterexamples to every generalization I shall suggest here. Nevertheless, anyone familiar with the climates of opinion to be found in English and philosophy departments, poetry workshops and critical symposia, creative writing and cultural studies programs, and the (dwindling)­ nonacademic counterparts of these—especially among people in their twenties and thirties—has to acknowledge the lack of acquaintance and interest—and often even the disdain and contempt—that characterizes the relations between poets and those engaged in the kind of high-level, quasi-philosophical reflective activity that literature, and poetry in particular, used to occasion. Illustrations are easy to come by. References to modern poetry by younger theorists are typically confined to the high modernists and to poets canonized twenty or thirty years ago in books like Donald Allen’s New American Poetry or Richard Howard’s Alone with American; and their rare allusions to the poetry of their contemporaries often betray a striking lack of familiarity and taste. Conversely, the fact that eighty years after Ezra Pound called for the breaking of everything breakable, a poet as intelligent and conceptually ambitious as Jorie Graham should title a book The End of Beauty, and have the theoretical outlook evoked by the title hailed as radical by as informed a critic as Helen Vendler, surely suggests that the level of reflective awareness in the poetry community is not what it might be.2

      · 1. Quoted in Peter Brazeau, Parts of a World: Wallace Stevens Remembered—An Oral Biography (New York, 1983), p. 43.

      · 2. See Helen Vendler, “Married to Hurry and Grim Song,” The New Yorker, 27 July 1987, pp. 74-77.

      See also: Phillip Harth, The New Criticism and Eighteenth-Century Poetry

      John Koethe is professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. His most recent book of poetry is The Late Wisconsin Spring (1984).

    • 79Carlo Ginzburg
    • In the last 2500 years, since the beginnings in ancient Greece of the literary genre we call “history,” the relationship between history and law has been very close. True, the Greek word historia is derived from medical language, but the argumentative ability it implied was related to the judicial sphere. History, as Arnaldo Momigliano emphasized some years ago, emerged as an independent intellectual activity at the intersection of medicine and rhetoric. Following the example of the former, the historian analyzed specific cases and situations looking for their natural causes; following the prescriptions of the latter—a technique, or an art, born in tribunals—he communicated the results of his inquiry.2

      Within the classical tradition, historical writing (and poetry as well) had to display a feature the Greeks called enargeia, and the Romans, evidential in narrtatione: the ability to convey a vivid representation of characters and situations. The historian, like the lawyer, was expected to make a convincing argument by communicating the illusion of reality, not by exhibiting proofs collected either by himself or by others.3 Collecting proofs was, until the mid-eighteenth century, an activity practiced by antiquarians and erudite, not by historians.4 When, in his Traité des differentes sortes de preuves qui servent à établir la vérité he l’histoire  (1769), the erudite Jesuit Henri Griffet compared the historian to a judge who carefully evaluates proofs and witnesses, he was expressing a still-unaddressed intellectual need. Only a few years later Edward Gibbon published his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the first work that effectively combined historical narrative with an antiquarian approach.5

      · 2. See Arnaldo Momigliano, ”History between Medicine and Rhetoric,” Ottavo contributo alla storia degli studi classici e del mondo antico, trans. Riccardo Di Donato (Rome, 1987), pp. 14-25.

      · 3. See Ginzburg, “Montrer et citer.”

      · 4. See Momigliano, “Ancient History and the Antiquarian,” Contributo alla storia degli studi classici (Rome, 1955), pp. 67-106.

      · 5. See Henri Griffet, Traité des differentes sortes de preuves qui servent à établir la vérité de l’histoire, 2d ed. (Liège, 1770). Allen Johnson, in his Historian and Historical Evidence (New York, 1926), speaks of the Traité as “the most significant book on method after Mabillon’s De re diplomatic” (p. 114). See also Momigliano, “Ancient History and the Antiquarian,” p. 81, and Ginzburg, “Just One Witness.” On Gibbon, see Momilgiano, Sesto contributo alla storia degli studi classici e del mondo antico (Rome, 1980), pp. 231-84.

      See also: Carlo Ginzburg, Latitude, Slaves, and the Bible: An Experiment in Microhistory  ·  Myra Jehlen, History before the Fact; Or, Captain John Smith's Unfinished Symphony

      Carlo Ginzburg is Franklin D. Murphy Professor of Italian Renaissance Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. His two most recent books are Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath and Il giudice e lo storico.

    • 93Lorraine Daston
    • I have sketched the well-known distinction between facts and evidence not to defend or attack it (as does a vast literature in the history and philosophy of science), but rather as a preface to a key episode in the history of the conceptual categories of fact and evidence. My question is neither, “Do neutral facts exist?” nor “How does evidence prove or disprove?” but rather, “How did our current conceptions of neutral facts and enlisted evidence, and the distinction between them, come to be?” How did evidence come to be incompatible with intention, and is it possible to imagine a kind of evidence that is intention-laden?

      It is my claim that partial answers to these questions lie buried in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature on prodigies and miracles. I shall argue that during this period prodigies briefly became the prototype for a new kind of scientific fact, and that miracles briefly exemplified a form of evidence patent to the senses and crucially dependent on intention. Both conceptions diverge sharply not only from current notions of facts and evidence, but also from medieval views on the nature of prodigies and miracles. Prodigies were originally closely akin to portent, divine signs revealing God’s will and things to come; miracles were more intimately associated with the private experience of grace than with the public evidence of the senses. Prodigies were transformed from signs into nonsignifying facts, and miracles into compelling evidence, as part of more sweeping changes in natural philosophy and theology in the mid-seventeenth century.

      See also: Lorraine Daston, Enlightenment Calculations  ·  Françoise Meltzer, Reviving the Fairy Tree: Tales of European Sanctity  ·   Patricia Parker, Gender Ideology, Gender Change: The Case of Marie Germain

      Lorraine Daston is professor of history of science at the University of Göttingen, Federal Republic of Germany. She is the author of Classical Probability in the Enlightenment (1988) and is currently at work on a history of scientific objectivity.

    • 125Barbara Herrnstein Smith
    • Questions of evidence—including the idea, still central to what could be called informal epistemology, that our beliefs and claims are duly corrected by our encounters with autonomously resistant objects (for example, fact, rocks, bricks, and texts-themselves)—are inevitably caught up in views of how beliefs, generally, are produced, maintained, and transformed. In recent years, substantially new accounts of these cognitive dynamics—and, with them, more or less novel conceptions of what we might mean by “beliefs”—have been emerging from various nonphilosophical fields (for example, theoretical biology, cognitive science, and the sociology of knowledge) as well as from within disciplinary epistemology. Because of the distinctly reflexive nature of these developments—that is, new conceptions of concepts, revised beliefs about belief, invocations of evidence said to challenge the operation of evidence, quasi-logical refutations of the authority of logic, and so on—the deployment of positions and arguments becomes extremely difficult here, as does even the description of the relevant events in intellectual history. Indeed, since we are dealing here not merely with shifts of, as it is sometimes put, “vocabulary,” but, often enough, with clashes of profoundly divergent conceptual idiom and syntax, every major term and discursive move is potentially implicated in the problematic itself, and, thereby, open to radical questioning and liable to charges of question-begging.

      The aim of the present essay is twofold: first, to suggest the more general interest and significance, beyond the fields in which they are being developed, of these emerging reconceptions of belief; and, second, to frame that suggestion in an account which, since it cannot escape the rhetorical difficulties just mentioned, foregrounds them. A number of related themes—notably, symmetry, circularity, reciprocality, and ambivalence—recur throughout and, at various points, are drawn together in accord with the account itself.

      See also: Barbara Herrnstein Smith, On the Margins of Discourse  ·  Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Contingencies of Value

      Barbara Herrnstein Smith is Braxton Craven Professor of Comparative Literature and English at Duke University, and director of its Center for Interdisciplinary Studies and Cultural Theory. Her current work examines contemporary models of cognition and communication.

    • 140R. C. Lewontin
    • The problem that confronts us when we try to compare the structure of discourse and explanation in different domains of knowledge is that no one is an insider in more than one field, and insider information is essential. An observer who is not immersed in the practice of a particular scholarship and who wants to understand it is at the mercy of the practitioners. Yet those practitioners are themselves mystified by a largely unexamined communal myth of how scholarship is carried on. R. G. Collingwood, although primarily a philosopher, was immersed in the community of historians and understood how history is done, so that he has had an immense influence on our ideas about historiography. Every historian knows The Idea of History.1 He was also a metaphysician, yet his influence on scientists’ understanding of nature, and of science, has been nil, and it is a rare scientist indeed who has ever heard of Collingwood or read The Idea of Nature.2 Collingwood’s views of the structure of science had to be constructed in large part from the elaborate fictions created by scientists and by an earlier generation of philosophers and historians of science who participated in the Baconian myth of the hypothetical-deductive scheme.

      · 1. See R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (Oxford, 1946).

      · 2. See Collingwood, The Idea of Nature (Oxford, 1945).

      See also: Lorraine Daston, Science Studies and the History of Science

      R. C. Lewontin is Alexander Agassiz Professor at Harvard University. He is an experimental and theoretical evolutionary geneticist who has also worked extensively on epistemological issues in biology. He is the author of The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change (1974) and, with Richard Levins, of The Dialectical Biologist (1985). His current research concerns the nature of genetic variation among individuals within species.