Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Autumn 1998

Volume 25 Issue 1
    • 1Sharon Cameron
    • In part 1 of the following I examine formulations that elaborate the mechanics of impersonality, an examination necessary to specify how persons come in contact with the impersonal; in the second half of part 1 I examine Emerson's analysis of the way in which body and mind, counterintuitively, exemplify attributes of impersonality, as well as the way in which that “law,” outside of body and mind, is equally said to epitomize it (“M,” p. 708).

      In part 2, I consider the features of the person who is expounding impersonality. I argue there is a connection between the anonymous voice of the speaker, the essays' stylistic singularity, and the compensating features of the erasure of personality. Throughout this and the following section I consider a series of concerns that threaten to produce a devastating critique of Emerson in any serious reading of him. Someone might reasonably feel that Emerson's idea of the impersonal is ethically illegitimate if not indeed simply delusional. If it is neither of these, what keeps it from being so? I understand such a question to mean: from what vantage could one relinquish the personal perspective one inevitably has as a delimited self? At the heart of the question is the issue of what licenses the abdication of a perspective one can't in some sense abdicate—what licenses it for oneself and what sanctions such a claim when it is made on another's behalf. For instance, when Emerson makes the following astonishing assertion, “If, in the hours of clear reason, we should speak the severest truth, we should say, that we had never made a sacrifice. In these hours the mind seems so great, that nothing can be taken from us that seems much. All loss, all pain, is particular; the universe remains to the heart unhurt. . . . It is only the finite that has wrought and suffered; the infinite lies stretched in smiling repose,” this seems the sort of claim that cannot be made by one person for another (“SL,” p. 305).

      See also:  Sharon Cameron, Naming as History: Dickinson's Poems of Definition  ·  Sharon Cameron, The Practice of Attention: Simone Weil’s Performance of Impersonality

      Sharon Cameron is William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of Lyric Time: Dickinson and the Limits of Genre (1979), The Corporeal Self: Allegories of the Body in Melville and Hawthorne (1981), Writing Nature: Henry Thoreau's Journal (1985), Thinking in Henry James (1989), and Choosing Not Choosing: Dickinson's Fascicles (1992).

    • 32Dominick LaCapra
    • Just before his untimely death, Bill Readings finished writing a book that will be a center of discussion and an object of critical dialogic exchange for some time to come. The University in Ruins contains an argument that should be considered carefully by academics, administrators, and the general public.1 This argument demonstrates that, while the “culture wars” may not be as heated as they were only a short time ago, the issues they raised are in no sense a thing of the past. Indeed the consequences of polarization and rhetorical overkill are still with us, as is the tendency of extreme ideological positions to meet in curious and unsettling ways.

      · 1. See Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge, Mass., 1996); hereafter abbreviated UR.

      See also:  Dominick LaCapra, History and Psychoanalysis  ·  Dominick LaCapra, Lanzmann's "Shoah": "Here There Is No Why"

      Dominick LaCapra is professor of history, the Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor of Humanistic Studies, and director of the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University as well as the associate director of the School of Criticism and Theory. His most recent book is History and Memory after Auschwitz (1998).

    • 56Thomas L. Dumm
    • Who has never been let down? Who has not known the sadness that comes when one realizes that something or someone has failed to meet one's expectations? Who has not felt the pang of regret, the painful sense that events might have been otherwise, that somehow something else ought to have been and yet will not be? To suffer a diminished faith in others is an experience of disappointment. In the very syllables of the word—on its very surface—the plain register of its meaning appears: disappointed, removed from appointment. The train of expectation is derailed; the appointment is not kept; the meeting is missed; the friend is unable to take a stand when it matters most. We mark our losses over time, forgive and forget, and move on.

      Sometimes disappointment deepens, encompasses such a wide scope that it overmatches our prior expectations, overwhelms our abilities, and threatens to shade into a more general disillusion that would stop us cold. Thus, one ethical task of critical thinking might be to steer us through our disappointment; to prevent it from turning into a permanent disillusionment; to make of our disappointment a plausible beginning, rather than a certain ending. The condition of disappointment has been expressed philosophically by Stanley Cavell as leaving us in a place he calls “Nowhere.” This Nowhere is not the utopia it might seem to some, but it might be the last refuge for a kind of philosophical thinking. When Cavell suggests that a task of philosophy is to preserve the skeptical argument, it is this Nowhere he is hoping, against hope, to save. “Here my thought [is] that skepticism is a place, perhaps the central secular place, in which the human wish to deny the condition of human existence is expressed; and so long as the denial is essential to what we think of as the human, skepticism cannot, or must not, be denied.”1 The place of skepticism is a place of disappointment.

      · 1. Stanley Cavell, “The Philosopher in American Life (Toward Thoreau and Emerson),” In Quest of the Ordinary: Lines of Skepticism and Romanticism (Chicago, 1988), p. 5. Cavell here summarizes the argument concerning skepticism that he develop in his earlier work, The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy (Oxford, 1979).

      See also: John Hollander, Stanley Cavell and "The Claim of Reason"

      Thomas L. Dumm is professor of political science at Amherst College. Among his books are Democracy and Punishment (1987), United States (1994), and A Politics of the Ordinary (1999).

    • 77Stacey Olster
    • Living in an age in which actors gain sixty pounds in preparation to play washed-up boxers, I decided to reverse the process and go on the Scarsdale Diet in preparation for my work on Jean Harris and the murder of Scarsdale Diet Doctor Herman Tarnower. I puckered my lips for morning grapefruit, munched dry protein toast with wild abandon, and, casting caution to the wind, gorged myself on spinach leaves soaked in lemon juice, all the while chew-chew-chewing in conformance with the doctor's command.

      I now knew why Herman Tarnower had to die.

      So, apparently, did everybody else. For women's groups, Harris's taking a gun to Tarnower (with intent or not) was simply a final assumption of control after having endured fourteen years of psychological abuse and flagrant infidelity. For Shana Alexander, who found the chronology of Harris's life to parallel her own quite strikingly, the rage of romance novels and the repression of an entire lifetime combined to cause Tarnower's death, taking specific shape in jealousy over an office assistant that Harris was too proud to admit.1 Indeed, it seems that the only one who did not know why Herman Tarnower died was Jean Harris herself, who continued to remain mystified about “how something that ugly and sad could have happened between two people who didn't argue, even, except over the use of the subjunctive.”2

      · 1. See Shana Alexander, Very Much a Lady: The Untold Story of Jean Harris and Dr. Herman Tarnower (Boston, 1983), p. 300.

      · 2. Jean Harris, Stranger in Two Worlds (New York, 1986), p. 139; hereafter abbreviated S.

      Stacy Olster is associate professor of English at State University of New York, Stony Brook. She is the author of Reminiscence and Re-creation in Contemporary American Fiction (1989) and is currently working on a manuscript that explores the integration of popular culture and contemporary literature entitled The Trash Phenomenon.

    • 95Aamir R. Mufti
    • Edward Said has never left any doubt as to the significance he attaches to what he calls secular criticism. It is by this term, not postcolonial criticism, that he identifies his critical practice as a whole. The meaning of this term is a theme he has returned to repeatedly since first elaborating it at length in the introduction to The World, the Text, and the Critic. But this facet of the Saidian project has received nothing like the attention that, for instance, has been lavished upon the concept of Orientalism or the strategy of what he calls contrapuntal reading. Nor does it seem to have been productive for younger scholars in quite the same way as these two latter conceptual constellations. There may even appear to be something about the persistence of this concern in Said's work, at least within the context of the Anglo-American academy. Could all this conceptual and rhetorical energy and all this ethical seriousness really be directed at literary readings of the Bible or at works concerning the traditions of Judeo-Christian hermeneutics, as a few strays comments towards the end of The World, the Text, and the Critic might lead one to believe?

      See also: Aamir R. Mufti, Orientalism and the Institution of World Literature  ·  Gil Anidjar, Secularism

      Aamir R. Mufti is assistant professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and coeditor of Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives (1997).

    • 126William H. Epstein
    • It's sometime in the late spring of 1953, a small town in eastern Pennsylvania. I'm eight years old, just riding my bike around in the late afternoon, you know, the way boys do, nothing special going on, just riding my bike, going down the alley across from school, maybe headed to the little branch library at the other end of it, a one-room wooden building that, over the years, I will read all the books in (well, a lot of them anyway), but maybe not, maybe I'm just riding my bike, you know, the way boys do, nothing and everything going on at once, when Joyce Baumert—who is a year younger than I am and lives in a little house with a porch next to the alley and whose father is the music teacher at the school across the street and has a brace on his leg because, when he was a kid, he had polio, which is something we all worried about back then, getting polio and being crippled like Mr. Baumert and my next-door neighbor Henry Moyer, who was three years older than I was but only one year ahead in school—when, as I was saying, Joyce Baumert looks at the baseball glove looped over my handlebars and asks me if I'm on my way over to the baseball tryouts at March Field.

      See also: Peter Schwenger, The Masculine Mode

      William H. Epstein, professor of English at the University of Arizona, is the author of John Cleland: Images of a Life (1974) and Recognizing Biography (1987) and the editor of Contesting the Subject: Essays in the Postmodern Theory and Practice of Biography and Biographical Criticism (1991).

    • 136Thierry de Duve
    • The anthology unfolds beneath the aegis of two absent figures: Novelene Ross, the author of a sociological and iconographical study of the Bar, and, above all, T. J. Clark, whose analysis in the fourth chapter of his book The Painting of Modern Life (1985) set the tone for virtually every subsequent interpretation of the famous painting.2 All the authors of Twelve Views of Manet's “Bar” refer to it, without exception. More surprising is the almost total lack of reference to the work of Michael Fried.3 It is true that the accidents of publishing brought his monumental Manet's Modernism to the bookstores just a few months after the volume compiled by Collins.4 It is also true that in his earlier work on Manet, Fried did not mention the Bar. Yet given the importance that all the authors in Collins's anthology grant to the central question posed by the Bar—that of the relations between the figures inside the painting and the viewer before the painting—I am astonished by the scant attention paid to the interpretive paths that Fried has been systematically exploring at least since “Manet's Sources” (and in reality since “art and Objecthood”). No doubt Fried, still perceived as a formalist, was not granted the honors of the New Art History.

      · 2. See Novelene Ross, Manet's “Bar at the Folies-Bergère” and the Myths of Popular Illustration (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1982), and T. J. Clark, “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère,” chap. 4 of The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers (New York, 1985), pp. 205-58. See also the first version of Clark's text, “The Bar at the Folies-Bergère,” in The Wolf and the Lamb: Popular Culture in France from the Old Regime to the Twentieth Century, ed. Jacques Beauroy, Marc Bertrand, and Edward T. Gargan (Saratoga, Calif., 1977), pp. 233-52.

      · 3. Except by Levine, who was Fried's student and who admits his Oedipal debt in a disconcerting and slightly embarrassing way; see Steven Z. Levine, “Manet's Man Meets the Gleam of Her Gaze: A Psychoanalytic Novel,” in Twelve Views of Manet's “Bar,” pp. 250, 251, and 269.

      · 4. See Michael Fried, Manet's Modernism, or, The Face of Painting in the 1860s (Chicago, 1996).

      See also: Michael Fried, Painting Memories: On the Containment of the past in Baudelaire and Manet  ·  Joel Snyder, “Las Meninas" and the Mirror of the Prince

      Thierry de Duve has written extensively on modern and contemporary art. He is the author of Pictorial Nominalism (1991), Kant after Duchamp (1996), and Clement Greenberg between the Lines (1996) and editor of The Definitively Unfinished Marcel Duchamp (1991).

    • 169James Elkins
    • Why is it that the most sustained encounter with Manet ever written—Michael Fried's Manet's Modernism, or, The Face of Painting in the 1860s—gives only one and a half pages (out of over six hundred) to A Bar at the Folies-Bergère?1 Basically, it's because the painting is not pivotal for Fried: it truncates the ternary relation between model, painting, and beholder that structures Manet's most characteristic works of the 1860s.2 In effect, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère lowers the pressure, by giving away things that had been held at expressive tension. And there's another reason, one not so much entangled with the book's purpose, namely, that the painting hasn't bee considered crucial until recently. As Thierry de Duve points out, it is only since T. J. Clark's The Painting of Modern Life (1985) that the Bar has been central to Manet studies.3 So what does the painting have that makes it increasingly irresistible? Why is it on the verge of becoming the bookend that matches the Déjeuner sur l'herbe, bracketing Manet and defining his generation, and even modernism itself? Why is it “one of the most pertinent challenges to art history today” (p. 139)? To get at these questions I am going to have to make a detour through a subject that may at first seem more a matter of duty than a pleasure. But it isn't irrelevant; in fact, it is the key to the painting's popularity. The subject is geometry.

      · 1. Counting length of text, not actual page numbers, and omitting quotations from other books, which occupy another page. See Fried, Manet's Modernism, or, The Face of Painting in the 1860s (Chicago, 1996), pp. 286-88 and 345-46.

      · 2. For the ternary relation, see ibid., esp. p. 343.

      · 3. See T. J. Clark, The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers (New York, 1985).

      James Elkins is associate professor of art history, theory, and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His books include The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing (1996) and Our Beautiful, Dry, and Distant Texts: Art History as Writing (1997).

    • 181Thierry de Duve
    • The sense I get from James Elkins's response (for which many thanks) is that he is not having a critical debate with me so much as with his former self. “I spent several years doing the kind of work de Duve has pulled off with much dispatch,” he says (p. 175), and in a footnote he speaks of his “own misplaced labor,” to be found in his dissertation, “full of diagrams so intricate [he] ran out of letters of the alphabet and started over with aa, bb and so forth” (p. 175 n. 9). While I find such candid self-criticism an admirable proof of honesty, and while I wouldn't dare criticize Elkins's thorough and competent work on Jan van Eyck or Paolo Uccello or Piero della Francesca even if he does, I beg him to consider that I don't share his personal trajectory. I have never slept with la dolce prospettiva; that's simply not where I'm coming from. Nor have I ever built 3-D models of Duchamp's The Large Glass or dreamt of drawing an equation between Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and Holbein's The Ambassadors. Which is why I don't recognize myself in those passages in Elkins's response where he slips into the first person plural (“We're all recovering addicts here; p. 177) and speaks of “our favorite interpretive mode—sleuthing—and our favorite subject for analysis—the interrogation of subjectivity” (p. 176).

      Thierry de Duve has written extensively on modern and contemporary art. He is the author of Pictorial Nominalism (1991), Kant after Duchamp (1996), and Clement Greenberg between the Lines (1996) and editor of The Definitively Unfinished Marcel Duchamp (1991).