Today's African American renaissance is the fourth such movement in the arts in this century. It is also the most successful and the most sustained. The first occurred at the turn of the century. In 1901, the black Bostonian William Stanley Braithwaite, a distinguished critic and poet, argued that “we are at the commencement of a 'negroid' renaissance . . . that will have as much importance in literary history as the much spoken of and much praised Celtic and Canadian renaissance.” At the end of a full decade of unprecedented literary productions by black women—who published a dozen novels and edited their own literary journal between 1890 and 1900—and precisely when the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, the novelists Pauline Hopkins and Charles Chesnutt, and the essayists W. E. B. Du Bois and Anna Julia Cooper were at the height of their creative powers, a critic in The A. M. E. Church Review in 1904 declared the birth of “The New Negro Literary Movement,” likening it, as had Braithwaite, to the Celtic renaissance.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities at Harvard, as well as director of Harvard's W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research. He is the author, most recently, of Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man (1997), coeditor, with Kwame Anthony Appiah, of Identities (1995), and a staff writer for The New Yorker.
To someone like myself coming to Caravaggio studies from outside, it's surprising to realize that during the past twenty-five years or more the most discussed canvas by the master has probably been early work (actually a work from the later phase of his early period), the Boy Bitten by a Lizard of circa 1596-97 (fig. 1). (The date just given follows the consensus of recent opinion. Also, there are two versions of the Boy Bitten by a Lizard, one in the National Gallery in London—the picture I shall be working with—and another in the Roberto Longhi Foundation in Florence. Recent opinion is divided as to which is the original and which the early copy; in fact both are superb and might well be by Caravaggio himself. Happily, connoisseurship in a technical sense isn't my concern in this essay; what matters is that, in the present state of our knowledge, both canvases may be taken as faithful to Caravaggio's intentions.) One of the earliest mentions of the Boy Bitten by a Lizard is by Giovanni Baglione, writing around 1625, roughly fifteen years after the artist's death. Baglione reports how the youthful Caravaggio arrived in Rome from the town of Caravaggio in Lombardy. “Then he moved into the house of the Cavaliere d'Arpino [a successful painter] for a few months,” Baglione writes. “From there he tried to live by himself, and he painted some portraits of himself in the mirror. The first was a Bacchus with different bunches of grapes, painted with great care though a bit dry in style. He also painted a boy bitten by a lizard emerging from flowers and fruits; you could almost hear the boy scream, and it was all done meticulously.”
Michael Fried is Herbert Boone Professor of Humanities at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book is Manet's Modernism, or, The Face of Painting in the 1860s (1996). A collection of his art criticism, Art and Objecthood, will appear this fall.
Eight years after the fall of the wall, seven years after the unification of East and West Germany, and just a couple of years before the final transfer of the national government from Bonn to Berlin, the city on the Spree is a text frantically being written and rewritten. As Berlin has left behind its heroic and propagandistic role as flashpoint of the cold war and struggles to imagine itself as the new capital of a reunited nation, the city has become something like a prism through which we can focus issues of contemporary urbanism and architecture, national identity and statehood, historical memory and forgetting. Architecture has always been deeply invested in the shaping of political and national identities, and the rebuilding of Berlin as a capital of Germany gives us significant clues to the state of the German nation after the fall of the wall and about the ways Germany projects its future.
Andreas Huyssen is Villard Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and an editor of New German Critique. His publications include Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia (1995) and After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (1986).
To make the pictures, the defendant clipped from campaign postcards several captioned photographic portraits of the plaintiff—a “stern, bespectacled” woman in her mid-sixties—and pasted the plaintiff's face and name to photographs of “nude and partially nude female bodies in sexually explicit poses” (BH1993), which he had selected from pornographic magazines. The defendant then photocopied the resulting composite images, posted several of them by his desk, and distributed a few others to colleagues in the office, envisioning his endeavor as “'a private satire among a select group of friends,'” a bawdy joke disparaging a candidate running for administrative office. Copies of the pictures were eventually given to the plaintiff by her campaign manager, who, apparently anticipating the plaintiff's response, delivered them to her in the sealed envelope mentioned above.
Brigid Doherty, assistant professor of the history of art at the Johns Hopkins University, is currently completing a book, Berlin Dada Montage, from which this essay is drawn. She is also at work on a project on Paula Modersohn-Becker, Hannah Höch, Marlene Dietrich, and Hanne Darboven.
Movies speak mainly to the eyes. Though they started talking in words some seventy years ago, what they say to our ears seldom overpowers or even matches the impact of what they show us. This does not mean that film is a medium “essentially” visual, any more than theater is. Many of the films made in the twenty-five years following the 1927 advent of the talkie crackle with dialogue worthy of the stage, which in fact is where many of them originated. Even in the visually captivating Citizen Kane, the single word Rosebud resonates just as memorably as any of its shots, and one notable film from the mid-twentieth century—Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950)—has been plausibly read as an allegory of how the word contests the power of the cinematic image. But whether or not this film ultimately “confirms the triumph of the female image,” as W. J. T. Mitchell suggests,1 or demonstrates the ironizing power of the word, it cannot help but remind us of what film and film theory alike repeatedly privilege: the structure and sequence of images, which André Bazin calls “the language of cinema.”2
· 1. W. J. T. Mitchell, “Going Too Far with the Sister Arts,” in Space, Time, Image, Sign: Essays on Literature and the Visual Arts, ed. James A. W. Heffernan (New York, 1987), p. 9.
· 2. André Bazin, “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema” (1950), in What Is Cinema? trans. Hugh Gray, 2 vols. (Berkeley, 1971), 1:28.
James A. W. Heffernan, professor of English and Frederick Sessions Beebe Professor in the Art of Writing at Dartmouth College, has published widely on English romantic literature and on the relations between literature and visual art. His latest book is Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery (1993).
Leaving aside a question to which I'll return, that of the blank stare, it seems blankness first appeared as the ground for a signification that it facilitated but that antedated it. According to Meyer Schapiro the smooth white ground common to most pictorialisms was quite a late development.1 Blankness, then, was a response to the pictographic rather than a precondition for it. Cave painters did without or felt no need for an uninterrupted field, but one later became necessary—the ground acquired the properties of a clear sky—in order that the image could operate unimpeded by any other presence.
Schapiro makes the point that at first this field is filled with rows of figures, and then it turns into a rectilinear space with figures in it, which he tantalizingly analogizes to the walled city. So, in his model, blankness first comes into view as a space in which the pictograph narrative no longer has to compete with a ground cluttered with detail and accident, and then it becomes associated with what one might call a pictorialism of the finite space, where the smooth white ground is coupled with a limit, with a dimension and thus a proportion, and, in consequence, with an overt connection between composition and orientation. The space of the image now has a figural relationship to its viewer; blankness has invisibly changed into a kind of space, a metaphor of some sort (an account of the development of the space of the signifier that makes it be a passage from the sublime to the beautiful, beginning as unbounded and rough and becoming bounded and smooth).
· 1. See Meyer Schapiro, “On Some Problems in the Semiotics of Visual Art: Field and Vehicle in Image-Signs,” Theory and Philosophy of Art: Style, Artist, and Society, vol. 4 of Selected Papers (New York, 1994), pp. 1-7.
Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe's recent publications include Beyond Piety: Critical Essays on the Visual Arts, 1986-1993 (1995) and Das Schöne und das Erhabene von heute, translated from the English by Almuth Carstens (1996). Currently a Guggenheim Fellow, he teaches in the MFA program at Art Center, Pasadena, California.
The following essay is composed of two parts. In the first I trace the genealogy of a literary image. In the second I relate it to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall, which is one of the most visited and, some would say, most stirring monument in America. My intention is not to “explain” the emotive power of the wall, only to provide a particular perspective on it. I neither fought in the Vietnam War nor lost anyone in it who was close to me. I do not presume to share the grief of those who did. But as they say in Latin: homo sum; humani nil a me alienum puto. The memorial, insofar as it is human, is not alien to any of us.
Robert Pogue Harrison is professor of French and Italian at Stanford University. He is the author of Forests: The Shadow of Civilization (1992) and The Body of Beatrice (1988).
My claim, then, is that instead of receding into a passive role—as raw stuff to be worked, whose inherent value resides in their receptivity to human modification—modern materials emerge as autonomous forces within an overarching modernist prosopopoeia. Beyond even their symbolic import, they become protagonists and heroes endowed with powers of agency and moral value, capable of sharing in the particular and universal attributes of human subjects and/or of serving as prosthetic extensions of humanity. This point was well understood by Maxime Du Camp, whose 1855 Songs of Matter (Chants de la matière) first chronicled the rise of the distinctively modern cult of materials. The artist of the industrial era, Du Camp suggests, must resist the past's siren song, which summons him to weave garlands around history's greatest monuments and to sing “the immortals and their distant works.”2 Instead, his task entails an act of visual/verbal engineering: to translate into imperfect objects and words “the songs of matter, explicating [modern] matter's towering deeds” (“ACL,” p. 169).
· 2. Maxime Du Camp, “A Charles Lambert,” Chants de la matière, in Les Chants modernes (1855; Paris, 1860), p. 170; hereafter abbreviated “ACL.”
Jeffrey T. Schnapp is professor of Italian and comparative literature at Stanford University. The author of The Transfiguration of History at the Center of Dante's Paradise and Staging Fascism: 18 BL and the Theater of Masses for Masses, he is currently working on a study of the anthropology of speed from eighteenth-century coaching to 1960s pop art, entitled Crash.
Giovanni Arrighi's The Long Twentieth Century is remarkable for, among many other things, producing a problem we did not know we had, in the very process of crystallizing a solution to it: the problem of finance capital.1 No doubt it swarmed around our heads in the form of vague perplexities, quizzicalities that we never paused long enough over to form into real questions: Why monetarism? Why is investment and the stock market getting more attention than an industrial production that seems on the point of disappearing anyway? How can you have profit without production in the first place? Where does all this excessive speculation come from? Does the new form of the city (including postmodern architecture) have anything to do with a mutation in the very dynamic of land values (ground rent)? Why should land speculation and the stock market come to the fore as dominant sectors in advanced societies, where advanced certainly has something to do with technology but presumably ought to have something to do with production as well? All of these nagging questions were also secret doubts about the Marxian model of production, as well as about the turn of history in the 1980s, stimulated by the Reaganite/Thatcherite tax cuts. We seemed to be returning to the most fundamental form of class struggle, one so basic that it spelled the end of all those Western Marxist and theoretical subtleties that the cold war had called forth. During the long period of the cold war and of Western Marxism—a period one really needs to date from 1917—a complex analysis of ideology needed to be developed in order to unmask the persistent substitutions of incommensurate dimensions, the passing off of political arguments in the place of economic ones, and the appeal to alleged traditions: freedom and democracy, God, Manichaeism, the value of the West and of the Judeo-Christian or Roman-Christian heritage as answers to new and unpredictable social experiments. This analysis was also needed to accommodate the new conceptions of the operation of the unconscious discovered by Freud and presumably at work in the layering of social ideology. In those days the theory of ideology constituted the better mousetrap. Every self-respecting theorist felt the obligation to invent a new one, only to be met with ephemeral acclaim my curious spectators always ready to move on to the next model at a moment's notice, even when that next model meant revamping the very name of ideology itself and substituting episteme, metaphysics, practices, or whatever.
· 1. See Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times (New York, 1994).
Fredric Jameson is professor of French and comparative literature at Duke University. His latest book is entitled The Seeds of Time (1994).