Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Autumn 1992

Volume 19 Issue 1
    • 1Michel Serres
    • Accidentally or knowingly, the French language uses only one word, temps, to speak both of the time that ticks by or flows, and of the weather produced by the slime and by what our ancestors called meteors.1

      Today we focus our expertise and our concern on the latter because our industrial know-how interferes, potentially on a catastrophic level, with the natural world that these same ancestors thought did not depend on us. Yet there is no doubt not only that it does depend on us but also that our lives depend on it, this moving atmospheric system, inconstant yet fairly stable, determinist and stochastic, with pseudoperiodic rhythms and response times that vary colossally.

      How do we make it vary? What disequilibria will result—what global change must we expect in the climate as a whole—from our industrial activity and our burgeoning technology, which pour tons of carbon oxides and other toxic waste into the atmosphere? At the moment we cannot estimate overall transformations on such a scale of enormity and complexity; no doubt we cannot even understand the relationship between temporality and temperature, time and weather, two seemingly disparate realities with a single common root word. Do we know a richer and more complete model of global change, equilibria, and their attractors, than that of climate and atmosphere? We are caught in a vicious circle.

      · 1. The French word temps is used throughout the original text to mean both “time” and “weather.” When temps is used in French, only one English equivalent is given, except when both “time” and “weather” are intended.

      See also: Dipesh Chakrabarty, Climate and Capital: On Conjoined Histories

      Michel Serres holds the chair of the History of Science at the University of Paris—I (Sorbonne), and is professor of French at Stanford University. A member of the Académie Française, he is the author of many books, including Hermes—Literature, Science, Philosophy (1982), The Parasite (1982), Rome: The Book of Foundations (1991), Le Tiers-instruit (1991), and Éclaircissements: cinq entretiens avec Bruno Latour (1992). Felicia McCarren is currently instructor in Humanities Special Programs at Stanford University. She has published articles on French literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and is completing a dissertation on the dance texts of Gautier, Mallarmé, and Céline. She is also the translator of Serres’s Rome.

    • 22Michael Fried
    • This essay was originally the third in a series of three lectures bearing the collective title “Manet’s Modernism” and amounting to a partial rough draft of what will be a book on the art of Édouard Manet in the crucial but still inadequately understood decade of the 1860s.1 Ideally I would begin by summarizing the first two lectures (entitled “Manet’s Sources Revisited” and “In Pursuit of the Tableau”), but the argument of each is sufficiently complex to make that impractical. So I will simply say that throughout the lectures (as throughout the book in progress) I stress the importance of viewing Manet as a member of a specific artistic generation, which I call the generation of 1863 in honor of its moment of maximum visibility, the Salon des Refusés of that year.

      · 1. The series comprised the Harry and Lynde Bradley Foundation Lectures, which I gave at the University of Chicago in April 1991, at the invitation of the Committee on Social Thought and the University of Chicago Press. The book on which I am working will also be called Manet’s Modernism; it critiques, builds upon, and goes far beyond my “Manet’s Sources: Aspects of His Art, 1859-65,” Artforum 7 (Mar. 1969): 28-82 and “Painting Memories: On the Containment of the Past in Baudelaire and Manet,” Critical Inquiry 10 (mar. 1984): 510-42.

      See also: Michael Fried, Painting Memories: On the Containment of the past in Baudelaire and Manet  ·  Michael Fried, Between Realisms: From Derrida to Manet

      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 working on books on Manet and on literary “impressionism.”

    • 70Alice Y. Kaplan
    • When the French press muses about who is going to replace Sartre, Foucault, and barthes in the pantheon of national intellectual figures, Alain Finkielkraut’s name inevitably appears—precociously—on a list that includes older, established figures such as historian François Furet, sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, philosophers Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze, and writer and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva. Today’s French intellectual, the argument goes, is less grandiose, less oppositional, more interested in the analysis of discrete events than in global pronouncements, a teacher and critic rather than a militant, Alain Finkielkraut is difficult to place in any group. Some consider him a liberal thinker in the newly minted French sense of the term: antitotalitarian, anti-Marxist, devoted to the search for universal values in a nation grappling with ethnic diversity (the apparent points of convergence between this new French liberalism and American neoconservatism are not well understood). Heideggerian in his metaphysics yet opposed to German romanticism, a secular disciple of Emmanuel Levinas, as well as a Jewish intellectual engaging with the French literary tradition (most recently with turn-of-the-century thinker Charles Péguy), Finkielkraut appears to be one of a kind in his penchants and positions. Culturally, he is a traditionalist: he privileges written over audiovisual culture, belles letters over new pedagogical methods. He spoke out against the reform of French spelling, and supported the Gulf War. His academic training is in literature; he is agrégé, meaning that he has passed the extremely rigorous state exam making him a member of the teaching corps; he teaches literature at the École Polytechnique, one of the highly competitive grandes écoles that train the French elite.

      See also: Ian Hunter, The History of Theory

      Alice Y. Kaplan teaches in the Department of Romance Studies at Duke University. She is the author of Reproductions of Banality: Fascism, Literature, and French Intellectual Life (1986), Relevé des sources et citations dans “Bagatelles pour un massacre” (1987), and a forthcoming memoir, French Lessons.

    • 87Andrew Apter
    • At the African Studies Association (A. S. A.) meetings of November 1989, V. Y. Mudimbe’s The Inventions of Africa: Philosophy, Gnosis, and the Order of Knowledge won the prestigious Melville J. Herskovits award. Mudimbe’s book is a landmark achievement, developing a critique of Africanist discourse in the spirit of Edward Said’s Orientalism by posing as its central problem “the foundations of discourse about Africa.”1 Its publication revitalized what is currently recognized as the African humanities, and it is within this fertile and polemical field of inquiry that questions of African philosophy, vernacular strategies, and constructed identities converge. The debate I wish to examine developed at a panel session at the same A. S. A. meetings organized on Mudimbe’s book. The participants included leading figures in the field—Kwame Anthony Appiah, Abiola Irele, Jonathan Ngate, Paulin Hountondji, and Valentin Mudimbe himself. All offered perspectives on Mudimbe’s work—with the author responding—but Hountondji’s final critique, glossed by the question “Que faire?” raised the most serious challenge.

      · 1. V. Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa: Philosophy, Gnosis, and the Order of Knowledge (Bloomington, Ind., 1988), p. xi; hereafter abbreviated IA. See also Mudimbe, “Which Idea of Africa? Herskovits’s Cultural Relativism,” October, no. 55 (Winter 1990): 93-104, and Manthia Diawara, “Reading Africa through Foucault: V. Y. Mudimbe’s Reaffirmation of the Subject,” October, no. 55 (Winter 1990): 79-92.

      See also: Kwame Anthony Appiah, Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?

      Andrew Apter, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago, is the author of Black Critics and Kings: The Hermeneutics of Power in Yoruba Society (1992). He is currently working on FESTAC for Black People: Oil-Capitalism and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria.

    • 105Zhang Longxi
    • Indeed resistance, as Edward Said observes, is “an inevitable part of acceptance” that ideas and theories must encounter when they travel to a new cultural environment.1 In Lu Xun's day, traditional Confucian mores formed the core of Chinese resistance to foreign ideas; today the ideological principles of the Chinese Communist Party, in the face of a disintegrated Soviet Union and a chaotic Eastern Europe, have become the last bulwark of world communism and undertake to guard jealously communism's ideological purity. In both cases, past and present, the resistance to foreign ideas and theories is propped up by the pretensions of a nationalism already bankrupt in ideas. In this we may find an explanation for the successive waves of political campaigns against Western “spiritual pollution” and “bourgeois liberalization,” campaigns that punctuated, since the end of the Cultural Revolution in the late seventies, a period of openness and economic reform. The spasmodic rhythm of these campaigns is symptomatic of a peculiar political situation, the circumstances of all literary and cultural activities in China, a situation dominated by the tension between the desire for a modern economy and the fear of any structural change in the distribution of power and in social hierarchy, between a sinicized Marxism as the official ideology of the Communist party and any foreign, especially Western, ideas and the theories. Without bearing this political background in mind, any discussion of the “traveling” of Western theory to and in China would make little sense, and understanding the significance of Western theory as well as its reception among Chinese intellectuals would be very difficult, if not totally impossible.

      · 1. Edward W. Said, “Traveling Theory,” The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), p. 227.

      See also: Zhang Longxi, The Myth of the Other: China in the Eyes of the West  ·  W. J. T. Mitchell, The Violence of Public Art: "Do the Right Thing"  ·  Shoshana Felman, Paul de Man's Silence

      Zhang Longxi is assistant professor of comparative literature at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author of A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century Theories of Literature (1986; in Chinese) and The Tao and the Logos: Literary Hermeneutics, East and West (1992). His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry is “The Myth of the Other: China in the Eyes of the West” (Autumn 1988).

    • 131Regina M. Schwartz
    • Because it has never been an authoritative text for me, the Bible has been instead a realm of haunting myths and arcane rituals, priestly codes and prophetic oracles, with stories like the universal Flood and the tower of Babel holding the kind of lure of, say, the Eleusinian mysteries, Dionysian rites, or the Delphic oracle. The historicist in me knew that despite this sense of a mysterious dark tapestry, once upon a time what is now “the Bible” had been a set of disparate documents born in widely varied political moments addressing urgent cultural and political questions in the broad light of their day. I once thought I would devote my scholarly life—and such a life would indeed be scholarly—to reconstructing that sense of immediacy. Nonetheless, my initial instinctive resistance to historical-critical biblical scholarship (a resistance that is deepening and becoming more defined over the years) was that it took the mystery away, unweaving the densely allusive literary tapestry of the Bible into this threads of sources and dates. But it was visiting Israel that made my Bible face a new assault, far more deadly than the results of any documentary hypothesis. Emerging from the plane onto the portable steps at Ben-Gurion Airport at dawn, I paused to look out over the horizon, to savor my first look at the mythical land—the one promised to Abraham and his heirs, denied to Moses, battled over with the Philistines, the Amorites, Moabites, Hurrians, and Hivites, the land whose praises were sung in the psalms, whose exiles wept for it like a lover, whose God ravaged it like a soiled adulteress—and with these echoes of biblical metaphors for the land before me, I looked out and saw fences, barbed wire, soldiers, and arms. Now I can no longer think about ancient Israel without thinking about contemporary Israel.

      See also: Daniel Boyarin and Jonathan Boyarin, Diaspora: Generation and the Ground of Jewish Identity

      Regina M. Schwartz is associate professor in the Departments of English and Religious Studies at Duke University. She is the author of Remembering and Repeating: On Milton's Theology and Poetics (1988; reissued in 1992), editor of The Book and the Text: The Bible and Literary Theory (1990), a coauthor of Border Crossings: Psychoanalysis and the Renaissance (1992). This essay is drawn from her forthcoming book on identity, monotheism, and violence.

    • 151David Antin
    • Let me begin with a simple memory. I was sitting in my dining room having a cup of coffee in the early afternoon before going off to meet somebody at the university; and I remembered, probably because my dining room faces west and looks towards the water, and because the sun was coming in through the window, a summer a long time ago—I was probably five—and sitting on the beach in New York at Rockaway, when a small biplane appeared over the water and began a series of climbs and turns and rolls, emitting a while trail that gradually turned into a sequence of furry letters that slowly spelled out the message

      I. J. FOX


      I had just learned how to read and I read it slowly. And while I thought it was wonderful for the fox to write such fine furry letters, I was a little irritated with the fox, who I thought was very stuck up to brag like that, no matter how fine his furs, because in my reading it was this J. Fox who was bragging about his fur, which I imagined was as white as the letters that spelled out his name, and it took me a little while before I realized that it was not the fox who had authored the message, but someone who made a business of skinning foxes and providing their furs to wealthy ladies at a price.

      See also: David Antin, hiccups

      David Antin is a poet, critic, and performance artist. His critical, speculative, and narrative talk performances have been published in two volumes of “talk pieces,” and a third, what it means to be avant-garde, will be published in 1993. He is also a professor of visual arts at the University of California, San Diego.

    • 164George M. Wilson
    • Late in the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein remarks that it is “difficult to know our way about” in the “depth grammar” of the verb to mean.1 Whatever he had in mind by this claim, it is certainly true that the syntactical liaisons that the verb has established in English are notably diverse. For example, we say: (1) First means smoke; (2) the heirloom means something special to its owner; (3) the agent means to perform a certain type of action; (4) the speaker means such-and-such (a content) in uttering his words; and (5) the lexical expression E (a word, a phrase, a sentence) means so-and-so in language L. One could add other constructions to this list, but as an opening reminder these examples will suffice.

      Many will feel that there is a larger conceptual unity hidden behind the surface dissimilarities of these forms. Thus, it seems plausible that if a speaker means some content by his utterance, then this fact is closely tied to what the speaker means (intends) to do in uttering the sounds in question. And many have believed that what lexical expressions mean in a language must somehow be determined by what speakers of the language mean when they employ those expressions. These related hypotheses have been much studied by philosophers of language and linguists, but it has proved a difficult matter to work out the connections in a clear and convincing way.

      · 1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe, 3d. ed. (New York, 1958), §664.

      See also: Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels, Against Theory

      George M. Wilson is professor of philosophy at the Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of Narration in Light: Studies in the Cinematic Point of View and The Intentionality of Human Action.

    • 186Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels
    • “By 'theory' we mean a special project in literary criticism: the attempt to govern interpretations of particular texts by appealing to an account of interpretation in general.” That is the first sentence of our 1982 essay “Against Theory.” In his critique of “Against Theory,” George M. Wilson supposes that our aim was to attack such fundamental distinctions in the philosophy of language as the distinction between what a word means in a language and what it may mean in a particular speech act. In fact, however, as our first sentence already indicated, our interest in “Against Theory,” and in all our subsequent writings on this subject, has not been in the philosophy of language but in interpretation—specifically, in the attempt to derive particular interpretive consequences from general claims about the nature of interpretation as such.1 For this reason, much of what Wilson has to say—for instance, his indignant defense of the achievements of several recent philosophers of language—seems to us beside the point. But Wilson's argument goes beyond his defense of standard philosophical distinctions; he also has his own views of interpretation. Here what he has to say is very much to the point, and there are real disagreements between his views and ours.

      · 1. Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels, “Against Theory,” Critical Inquiry 8 (Summer 1982): 723. See also Knapp and Michaels, “A Reply to Our Critics,” Critical Inquiry 9 (June 1983): 790-800; “A Reply to Richard Rorty: What is Pragmatism?” Critical Inquiry 11 (Mar. 1985); 466-73; “Against Theory 2: Hermeneutics and Deconstruction,” Critical Inquiry 14 (Autumn 1987): 49-68; and “Intention, Identity, and the Constitution: A Response to David Hoy,” in Legal Hermeneutics: History, Theory, and Practice, ed. Gregory Leyh (Berkeley, 1992), pp. 187-99. The first three items are reprinted in Against Theory: Literary Studies and the New Pragmatism, ed. W. J. T. Mitchell (Chicago, 1985), pp. 11-30, 95-105, an 139-46. For additional relevant discussion, see Knapp, “Practice, Purpose, and Interpretive Controversy,” in Pragmatism in Law and Society, ed. Michael Brint and William Weaver (Boulder, Colo., 1991), pp. 323-42.

      Steven Knapp is a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. His writings include Personification and the Sublime: Milton to Coleridge and a forthcoming study of the notion of literary autonomy. Walter Benn Michaels is professor of English and the humanities at the Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism (1987) and a monograph on American literature in the Progressive Era, forthcoming in the Cambridge History of American Literature.