Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Autumn 2009

Volume 36 Issue 1
    • 1Jacques Rancière
    • How should we understand the syntagm of my title? Obviously it is not a question of claiming that politics or knowledge must take on an aesthetic dimension or that they have to be grounded in sense, sensation, or sensibility. It is not even a question of stating that they are grounded in the sensible or that the sensible is political as such. What aesthetics refers to is not the sensible. Rather, it is a certain modality, a certain distribution of the sensible. This expression can be understood, at least initially, by turning to the text that has framed the space of aesthetics, though the term was never used there as a substantive. I mean, of course, Kant's Critique of Judgment, which I will use as a guiding thread in the construction of a tentatively more comprehensive concept of aesthetics. For now I only wish to draw from this text the three basic elements that make up what I call a distribution of the sensible. First, there is something given, a form that is provided by sense—for instance, the form of a palace as described in section two of Kant's text. Second, the apprehension of this form is not only a matter of sense; rather, sense itself is doubled. The apprehension puts into play a certain relation between what Kant calls faculties: between a faculty that offers the given and a faculty that makes something out of it. For these two faculties the Greek language has only one name, aesthesis, the faculty of sense, the capacity to both perceive a given and make sense of it.

      Jacques Rancière is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris‐VIII, St. Denis. His most recent book is Aesthetics and Its Discontents.

      See also: Jacques Rancière, Aesthetics against Incarnation  ·  Jacques Rancière, The Order of the City  ·  Richard Halpern, Theater and Democratic Thought: Arendt to Rancière

    • 20Marie‐José Mondzain
    • Can images kill? Do images make us killers? Can we go so far as to attribute to them the guilt or responsibility of crimes and offenses that as objects they couldn't actually have committed? What act is an image capable of? As an object without body, hand, or will, can it act as a magical influence? Listening to tales about wolves gives shape to the ineffable fears and fantasies populating our nightmares, thus helping us to overcome them. Do edifying allegories of virtue and patriotism produce a virtuous and patriotic world? Does Picasso's deconstruction of Dora Maar's face provoke the carnivorous cutting up of a loved one? No? Then how could some images be more irresistible than others? These icons of the fear and pleasure of seeing do not provoke imitation. The problem would seem to then concern the intrinsic nature of images and not their narrative or referential content. The history of violence is completely distinct from images as long we distinguish between the fate of critical judgment and of speech, that is, of what the place of our bodies and thoughts is when we are confronted with these images. Speech alone has an effect on the economy of our desires, specifically in the visual world where people all too often believe that the speaking subject has become silent. But is this really our natural disposition? Is it not rather a strategy of enslavement? There is no reason why the apparent silence of images would want to render us mute. Generally, an image does not want to silence us any more than the sight of a chair obliges us to sit down. Does a church pew force us to kneel down? The visible by itself gives no orders. So who does?

      Marie‐José Mondzain is the director of research at the Centre Nationale de la Rercherche Scientifique. She is the author of L'Image naturelle (1995), Le Commerce des regards (2003), Image, Icon, Economy : The Byzantine Origins of the Contemporary Imaginary (2005), and Homo Spectator (2007).

      See also: Dagmar Herzog, Post-Holocaust Memory and the Sexual Revolution in West Germany  ·  Susan Rubin Suleiman, History, Memory, and Moral Judgment in Documentary Film  ·  Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Desire and Discipline in the Italian Fascist Film

    • 52Wendy Grace
    • Foucault's critique of psychoanalysis entails a new, non‐Marxist ontology of contemporary society, one that links power to truth production, and of which the dispositif of sexuality is a decisive component. Deleuze and Guattari, on the other hand, never questioned the appropriateness of invoking a Marxist version of modern Western society as a general cultural force structuring agencements of desire. This reliance on Marxism has two main drawbacks. First, it paints a particular picture of the history of Western sexuality and its relationship to class struggle, one that obscures significant episodes: confessional practices, the campaign against childhood masturbation in the eighteenth century, the gynaecologization of women's bodies in the nineteenth, and so on. These have played no small part in the production of peculiarly Western types of sexual orientation and difference. Second, by not modifying the political notion of power already operating in traditional Marxist‐Freudian critiques, Deleuze and Guattari perpetuate a problem inherent in the Lacanian concept of desire: the absurd claim that cultural powers produce sexuality while those same forces are simultaneously held responsible for repressing it (see HS, pp. 82–83). While it is not possible to provide a comprehensive summary of both responses to Freud, much less an outline of either philosopher's oeuvre, the aim here is to suggest a general radical divergence that separates Foucault and Deleuze when it comes to analyzing sexuality independent of psychoanalysis.

      Wendy Grace is coauthor, with Alec McHoul, of A Foucault Primer: Discourse, Power, and the Subject (1993). She is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Western Australia.

      See also: Leo Bersani, Sociality and Sexuality  ·  Jay Clayton, Narrative and Theories of Desire  ·  Françoise Meltzer, Theories of Desire: Antigone Again

    • 76Robert Morris
    • Any history of the monumental would document a long list of triumphal works in the service of military victories: commemorative obelisks, pyramids, freestanding arches, towers, and gates, not to mention a pantheon of larger‐than‐life‐size carved and cast victors, assorted heroes, and gods. Such triumphal objects constitute one class of historical gigantism. But there is another class of works that has been there from the beginning. These are works too large to be taken in at a glance, works that transcend their status as objects. These mostly take the form of the labyrinthine enclosure. The origin of this class begins with the cave art of thirty thousand years ago. Later temple, palace, and fortress complexes pushed the expansion of complex interiors. This sprawling architecture does not of course transcend objecthood. The bird's‐eye view, when available, encompasses the whole as object. Ruins of extensive Egyptian and Near Eastern temple, tomb, and palace complexes are well known. Angkor Watt is an early example from Southeast Asia of the temple complex extended beyond vision's capacity to achieve a view of the whole. The Great Wall of China and the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio, both forms of the meander, also extend the built beyond visual limits. Today the ubiquitous commercial mall works a variation on the form of the enclosure.

      Robert Morris is Distinguished Professor at Hunter College. His most recent book is Have I Reasons, Work and Writings, 1993–2007 (2008).

      See also: Robert Morris, Size Matters  ·  Robert Morris, Professional Rules  ·  Robert Morris on his Blind Time IV

    • 100Mark Seltzer
    • In the pages that follow I will take up these questions about game and world by sampling several very different scenes: initially, Highsmith's crime novel Ripley's Game; next, a recent bestseller that is in effect a popularization of systems thinking (Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: Thinking without Thinking); and, briefly, Kazuo Ishiguro's recent novel about a newly normal violence and the social ecologies of ignorance that go with it, Never Let Me Go. The focus across these scenes is first, via Highsmith, parlor games; second, via Gladwell, war games; the third, via Ishiguro, form games. These are, I mean to suggest, scenes that remain remarkably stable across their different scenographies. Each appears as the subset of a structure that persists through its variations: encounters of a performance and a syntax or, more exactly, the emergence of comparable conditions in diverse systems, which is a defining attribute of modernity. These scenes then will make it possible to map these games, their rules, and their media—and the social territory they at once model and realize.

      Mark Seltzer is the Evan Frankel Professor of Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. His books include Henry James and the Art of Power (1984), Bodies and Machines (1992), Serial Killers: Death and Life in America's Wound Culture (1998), and True Crime: Observations on Violence and Modernity (2006). The present essay is part of a book on modeling modernity, The Official World.

      See also: Mark Seltzer, The Crime System  ·  Peter Galison, Norbert Wiener and the Cybernetic Vision  ·  Elena Esposito, The Arts of Contingency

    • 134Franco Moretti
    • Titles allow us to see a larger literary field, I said at the beginning of this article; and the first thing we see in this larger field, at this moment in history, is the force of the market: how its growth creates a major constraint on the presentation of novels. This of course doesn't mean that all titles gave the same answer to the pressure of the market; but it does mean that they all had to face the same question: How could one shorten a message—without losing information? There was a lot of information in summaries: what happened to it? Was it—gone? reformulated? replaced by something else? I will return to this in a moment; now let me close this first section by acknowledging a limit of this article: I began by showing the average length of titles, but I then shifted to very long and very short titles—and I did so because these trends are much more dramatic than the slow decline of the average, and thus also much easier to talk about. Which is not exactly wrong (after all, those trends are real!), but, even aside from a question of completeness—of the seven thousand titles in the study, around nine hundred are long, sixteen hundred short, and forty-five hundred somewhere in between—the focus on extremes misses a decisive aspect of quantitative work: what really counts, here, are not a few major and rapid changes, but many small and slow ones. But the trouble is, we literary historians don't really know how to think about what is frequent and small and slow; that's what makes it so hard to study the literary field as a whole: we must learn to find meaning in small changes and slow processes—and it's difficult.

      Franco Moretti teaches literature at Stanford University. His most recent books have been Atlas of the European Novel, 1800–1900 (1998) and Graphs, Maps, Trees (2005).

      See also: Michael Ragussis, The Birth of a Nation in Victorian Culture  ·  Terry Castle, Spectral Technology and the Metaphorics of Modern Reverie  ·  Patrick Brantlinger, Victorians and Africans

    • 159Katie Trumpener
    • Macroanalysis can certainly yield interesting observations and speculations. Yet the questions Moretti arrives at through statistics, I would argue, can be derived equally from comparing literary systems. I began this response, quite self‐consciously, with an autobiographical, familially inflected anecdote about my own history as a reader. I thus began with a subjective reading response—on the opposite end of the methodological spectrum, it would seem, from the statistical table. Yet this idiosyncratic entry point, I tried to show, led organically to long‐term ruminations on the same book‐historical problems that Moretti claims become visible only in aggregate. Crucially, I think, my distinctly informal, unsystematic bookstore ponderings were also cross‐cultural, involving implicit comparison of bookselling (hence also of publishing practices) in two divergent literary systems.

      Katie Trumpener is the Emily Sanford Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Yale University but spent 2007–8 in the company of statistically driven social scientists (as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford Unversity). Her publications include Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire andThe Cambridge Companion to Fiction of the Romantic Period (coedited with Richard Maxwell). She is finishing a book on cold war German cinema and writing another on modernism and servants.

      See also: Franco Moretti, Style, Inc. Reflections on Seven Thousand Titles (British Novels, 1740–1850)

    • 172Franco Moretti
    • Causality. Here, apparently, I both “avoid assigning causality: it remains hard to be sure who or what is creating discernible changes,” and assign it to the wrong factor: “Moretti's assumptions about marketplace factors are too monocausal.” In fact, I do explicitly locate the decisive cause for the shortening of titles (and, later, their differentiation) in the expansion of the market: first, by showing the inverse correlation between the two, and then conjecturing how changes in market size may have concretely “cascaded” down to the structure of titles. Trumpener provides no data to contradict this hypothesis, nor does she challenge the fact that circulating libraries—these key multipliers of literary circulation—take novelistic titles, and regularly shorten them. Finally, there is no objection to my thesis on how the ultimate forms of short titles—proper names and abstractions—may have come into being.

      Franco Moretti teaches literature at Stanford University. His most recent books have been Atlas of the European Novel, 1800–1900 (1998) and Graphs, Maps, Trees (2005).

      See also: Franco Moretti, Style, Inc. Reflections on Seven Thousand Titles (British Novels, 1740–1850)

    • 175James W. Williams
    • The editors of Critical Inquiry congratulate Ian Hacking on being this year's recipient of the Holberg International Memorial Prize, the annual prize for outstanding scholarly work in the academic fields of the arts and humanities, social science, law, and theology. We are delighted that of the six recipients of this prize three of them—Julia Kristeva, Fredric Jameson, and Hacking—have been Critical Inquiry Visiting Professors at the University of Chicago.

      We are also pleased to announce that Daniel Hack's essay in Critical Inquiry, “Close Reading at a Distance: The African Americanization of Bleak House,” received the honorable mention for the Donald Gray Prize for best essay in Victorian studies published in a journal in 2008.