Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Autumn 2023

Volume 50 Issue 1
    • 1 Bill Brown, Frances Ferguson, and Heather Keenleyside
    • The fiftieth anniversary of Critical Inquiry marks more than the ongoing liveliness and longevity of one journal. It marks the ongoing importance of humanities journals tout court and the vitality of a field that persistently asks new questions and expands the borders of knowledge. As we begin our next fifty years, we remain committed to that vitality—to new authors, new research, and new conceptual paradigms that open new fields of inquiry.

      Looking back at what the journal has accomplished and looking forward with undiminished aspiration, we want to express our gratitude to the University of Chicago Press and the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago for their unflagging support and to our authors (of articles, reviews, responses, and blog posts) and our readers, who so clearly justify the endeavor. In particular we’d like to celebrate the members of our coeditorial board (past and present), who sustain a dynamic, at times passionate conversation from across fields and theoretical dispositions. And we want to thank Hank Scotch, our managing editor, whose passion for the journal is a continuing act of intellectual sponsorship.

    • 2Lydia H. Liu
    • What happens to philosophy when philosophical activities migrate to the AI lab? My article explores the philosophical work that has gone into the machine simulations of language and understanding after Alan Turing. The early experiments by AI practitioners such as Karen Spärck Jones, Richard Richens, Yorick Wilks, and others at the Cambridge Language Research Unit (CLRU) led to the creation of the machine interlingua, semantic networks, and other technological innovations central to the development of AI in the 1950s–1970s. I attempt to show how, in the midst of their computational work, the CLRU pioneers engaged with Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ferdinand de Saussure, Rudolf Carnap, and other philosophers and developed startling new ways of formulating fundamental questions about language and human understanding. More significantly, their philosophical activities on the machine present an inclusive and culturally diverse picture of the world that profoundly negates the ethnocentric metaphysics of human-machine conundrums that John Searle and his critics represent in the Chinese Room debate. The familiar legacy of that debate has long distorted the narrative of AI origins through its simultaneous reiteration and repudiation of the Turing test. My study seeks to clarify those origins, but my primary goal is to demonstrate what it is like to practice philosophy on the machine and how the critique of metaphysics is made possible in the AI lab.

    • 31Fredric Jameson
    • This article sketches the emergence of visual schematisms from Immanuel Kant to Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, and Jean-François Lyotard. It demonstrates the centrality of differentiation in these visual representations, as underscored by the “bar” or so-called vinculum (a mathematical term). It ultimately concludes that the weakness or dialectical contradiction of the thus differentiated entities lies in their tendency to fold back into each other, returning to the One which it was the purpose of the schematization to exclude in the first place.

    • 54Catherine Malabou
    • This article, originally delivered as a lecture at the University of Chicago, is a critical reading of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. Following Antonio Gramsci, their book reverses the meaning of the term hegemony. The traditional use of the term (for military or political leadership) shifts and gives birth to a new signification. Hegemony currently designates a privilege but a discursive one only. It is the privilege conferred to a certain word or category serving as a unifying symbol for different and even heterogeneous forms of political resistance. Hegemony thus understood retains an idea of direction but without any dominating intention. It just orients multiple revolt movements without reducing their differences. Such a unifying symbol appears as a specific signifier devoid of any content or reference, thus ready to bear any contextual meaning. Does this new understanding of hegemony succeed in providing a nondogmatic and nonbinding process of unification, or does it secretely reinstall the logic of commandment?

    • 67Frances Ferguson
    • Stenography had been used for centuries to capture the words of orators, lecturers, and royals, but there was a significant expansion of the use of stenography in the eighteenth century. During the period when Samuel Richardson held the contract to report on decisions reached in the House of Commons, Thomas Gurney began transcribing the testimony of many speakers at trials in the Old Bailey. In this article, I suggest that Richardson, increasingly aware of stenography as a technology for capturing many different speakers’ words verbatim, ratcheted up epistolarity to establish a high-water mark for the multivoiced novel. He depicted characters who weren’t merely using stenographic concisions to keep up with the pace of speech but were essentially taking dictation from themselves. In a final section I consider Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold-Bug” as a repudiation of the multivoiced novel as a literary form and an effort to humiliate its voice-centeredness.

    • 88Daniel Morgan
    • This article argues that a sustained, consistent, and ambitious argument underlies Annette Michelson’s writings on art and film across the 1970s and 1980s. Working in relation to modernist discourses of the 1960s, Michelson links an account of time and temporal organization in cinema to a developmental model of film spectatorship. Read in this way, Michelson’s writing represents an alternate and overlooked strand of film theory and criticism, one that provides a new account of cinematic avant-gardes—and an alternative to what I call the infantile tendencies of film theory that is grounded in the terms of cognitive maturity.

    • 118Michael W. Clune
    • The twentieth century evolved several ways of treating literary authorship in terms of an object rather than a subject. One tradition, derived more or less distantly from late nineteenth century symbolism, identifies the source of authorship with the medium, the tradition, or language itself. Exponents of this view include writers as different as T. S. Eliot, Martin Heidegger, and Paul De Man. A second tradition, associated most closely with Michel Foucault, understands authorship in terms of impersonal social structures. Both of these traditions move the question of authorship from subject to object by bypassing the experience of the writer. I outline a third tradition, one that locates the movement from who to what within the experience of authorship itself. I enumerate key features of this model of authorship—which represents a revision of the classical concept of inspiration—through close readings of poems by Sylvia Plath and Jorie Graham.

    • 137Matthew Kirschenbaum
    • A sand table is an intentional structure that is an early, indeed ancient, interactive platform for visualization and simulation. An intellectual furnishing that is also a tangible instance of speculative infrastructure, the sand table offers a tactile space for the rehearsal of tactics, staccato words whose roots lie in haptics and arrangement. While common in military settings, sand tables have also been used to teach the blind, train wilderness firefighters, conduct therapy for trauma victims, illustrate stories to children, and play imaginative games. Today there is a direct line from this seemingly modest technology—an implementation of what has been called elemental media—to augmented reality and other tangible interfaces. Part media history, part media archaeology, this article argues that sand tables belong to the lineage of platforms for speculative thinking and world-building that culminated in the rise of the digital computer amid a Cold War complex of scenario-driven futurology (whose centerpiece was the so-called situation room). It also suggests that sand, in its literal granularity—the physical affordances of the minute particulars of its particulate matter—offers an alternative to the binary regimen of ones and zeros that is the extractive product of the refined silica out of which semiconductors are still made.