It is difficult to overestimate the impact, beginning in the 1960s, which Gombrich’s discussion of visual representation made on a good number of theorists in an entire generation of thinking about art and—even more—about literary art. For literary theory and criticism were at least as affected by his work as were theory and criticism in the plastic arts. Art and Illusion radically undermined the terms which had controlled discussion of how art represented “reality”—or, rather, how viewers or members of the audience perceived that representation and related it to their versions of “reality.” And, for those who accompanied or followed him—from Rosalie Colie to Wolfgang Iser—Gombrich helped transform for good the meaning of a long revered term like “imitation” as it could be applied to both the visual and verbal arts. I believe he must, then, be seen as responsible for some of the most provocative turns that art theory, literary theory, and aesthetics have taken in the last two decades.
In much of his work since the 1960s, however, Gombrich has appeared more and more anxious to dissociate himself from those who have treated his earlier books and essays as leading to the theoretical innovations which have claimed support from them. In The Image and the Eye, the statements which put distance between himself and such followers seem utterly unambiguous. And against the charge that his work has become more conservative with the passing years, I suspect Gombrich would argue that any claim of difference between, say, Art and Illusion and The Image and the Eye is a result of an original misreading, that the recent work is only more explicitly defending a traditional position which was quietly there all along, though supposedly friendly theorists wrongly saw him as subverting it in the earlier work. Thus Gombrich is now self-consciously committed to undoing what he sees as our errors of reading rather than his own errors of writing.
Murray Krieger is University Professor of English at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of, among other works, The Tragic Vision, The Classic Vision, Theory of Criticism: A Tradition and Its System, Poetic Presence and Illusion: Essays in Critical History and Theory, and, most recently, Arts on the Level. He is presently working on Ekphrasis: Space, Time, and Illusion in Literary Theory (forthcoming). His latest contribution to Critical Inquiry, “Poetic Presence and Illusion: Renaissance Theory and the Duplicity of Metaphor,” appeared in the Summer 1979 issue.
It is a thankless task to have to reply to Professor Murray Krieger’s “Retrospective.” Qui s’excuse, s’accuse, and since I cannot ask my readers to embark on their own retrospective of my writings and test them for consistency, I have little chance of restoring my reputation in their eyes. Hence I would have been happier to leave Professor Krieger to his agonizing, if he did not present himself the “spokesman” for a significant body of theorists who appear to have acclaimed my book on Art and Illusion without ever having read it. The followers of this school of criticism—of which Professor Krieger is a prominent member—had apparently convinced themselves that the book lent support to an aesthetics in which the notions of reality and of nature had no place. They thought that I had subverted the old idea of mimesis and that all that remained were different systems of conventional signs which were made to stand for an unknowable reality. True, professor Krieger admits that I never endorsed such an interpretation of my views, and he even concedes that there are passages in Art and Illusion which contradict such an out-and-out relativism, but he wants to convince his readers that these contradictions lead precisely to the ambiguities he now proposes to analyse.
If he were right that the book encourages such a misreading, all I could do would be to express my regrets for having failed to make myself sufficiently clear. Luckily I can draw comfort from the fact that unlike these literary critics, the leading archaeologist of this country, Professor Stuart Piggott, had no difficulty at all in discerning my meaning and profiting from my arguments. In his Walter Neurath Memorial Lecture of 1978, entitled Antiquity Depicted: Aspects of Archaeological Illustration, the author did me the honour of taking a statement from my book as his starting point. It is the passage at the end of part I in which I recapitulate the content of the first two chapters:
What matters to us is that the correct portrait, like the useful map, is an end product on a long road through schema and correction. It is not a faithful record of a visual experience but the faithful construction of a relational mode.
Neither the subjectivity of vision nor the sway of conventions need lead us to deny that such a model can be constructed to any required degree of accuracy. What is decisive here is clearly the word “required.” The form of a representation cannot be divorced from its purpose and the requirements of the society in which the given visual language gains currency.1
1. E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation, A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, 1956 (New York, 1960), p. 90.
E. H. Gombrich was director of the Warburg Institute and Professor of the History of the Classical Tradition at the University of London from 1959 to 1976. His many influential works include The Story of Art, Art and Illusion, Meditations on a Hobby Horse, The Sense of Order, Ideals and Idols, The Image and the Eye, and, most recently, Tributes. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry include “The Museum: Past, Present and Future (Spring 1977) and “Standards of Truth: The Arrested Image and the Moving Eye” (Winter 1980).
Some people have found my distinction between meaning and significance useful. In the following revision of that distinction, I hope to improve its accuracy and perhaps, therefore, its utility as well. My impulse for making the revision has been my realization, very gradually achieved, that meaning is not simply an affair of consciousness and unconsciousness. In 1967, in Validity in Interpretation, I roundly asserted that “there is no magic land of meanings outside human consciousness.” 1 That assertion would be true if, godlike, we could oversee the whole of human consciousness, past, present, and future. But we language users, being limited creatures, intend our verbal meanings to go beyond what we can pay attention to at any moment. We intend our meanings to transcend our momentary limitations of attention and knowledge. Hence there is a land of meanings beyond past and present human consciousness—the land of the future. What I should have said originally is that there is no magic lance of meanings beyond the whole extent of human consciousness, past, present, and future. This correction of my original statements leads to a deepening of the concept of meaning.
In 1960 I first proposed the analytical distinction between two aspects of textual interpretation. One of them, meaning, was fixed and immutable; the other, significance, was open to change.2 I acknowledged that significance, changeable or not, is the more valuable object of interpretation, because it typically embraces the present use of texts, and present use is present value. But I argued that, in academic criticism, the significance and use of a text ought to be rooted in its fixed meaning, since otherwise criticism would lack a stable object of inquiry and would merely float on tides of preference. The claim that one reader’s opinion is as valid as another’s would then be right, despite any indignant protest to the contrary. I did not wish to dissuade people from floating on the tides of preference if that was what they wished to do. I intended to provide a firm justification for those who wished to pursue historical scholarship. (I was writing in a context in which historical interpretation was being denounced as “unliterary” and hence illegitimate.)3 I also assumed that even those who did not pursue historical scholarship might sometimes wish to exploit the possibility of historically fixed meaning. In my experience, even antiauthorial theorists sometimes with to regard their own texts as having a historically fixed meaning and will complain if someone misunderstands that meaning.
1. E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Validity in Interpretation (New Haven, Conn., 1967), p. 4.
2. See my “Objective Interpretation,” PMLA 75 (Sept. 1960): 463-79.
3. See, for instance, W. K. Wimsatt, Jr., and Monroe C. Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy,” in Wimsatt, The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry (Lexington, Ky., 1954), which ends:
We submit that this is the true and objective way of criticism, as contrasted to what the very uncertainty of exegesis might tempt a second kind of critic to undertake: (2) the way of biographical or genetic inquiry …. Our point is that such an answer to such an inquiry would have nothing to do with the poem “Prufrock”; it would not be a critical inquiry. Critical inquiries, unlike bets, are not settled in this way. Critical inquiries are not settled by consulting the oracle. [P. 18]
E. D. Hirsch, Jr., professor of English at the University of Virginia, is the author of numerous works, including Validity in Interpretation and The Aims of Interpretation. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are “Against Interpretation?” (June 1983), “The Politics of Theories of Interpretation (September 1982), and “Stylistics and Synonymity” (March 1975).
Surprisingly, when Laurence Sterne’s Yorick sets his head toward Dover, it is with no developed motive of connoisseurship or curiosity: the gentleman dandy ups with his portmanteau at the merest glance of “civil triumph” from a male servant. Perhaps we are in the world of P. G. Wodehouse, with a gentleman’s gentleman who happens, like Jeeves, to be the embodiment of all the prescriptive and opportunistic shrewdness necessary to maintain his master’s innocent privileges—but it is impossible to tell; the servant utters his five words, glances his glance, and disappears from the novel. The prestige that has lent force to his misprision—or is it a sneer?—seems to belong not to a particular personality but to a position, a function (or lack of it), a bond between gentleman and gentleman’s gentleman that, throughout this novel, makes up in affective and class significance what it lacks in utilitarian sense. Yorick’s bond to another valet is the most sustained and one of the fondest in the novel; and, for most of the novel, the bond is articulated through various forms of the conquest and exchange of women.
In the discussion ahead, I will be using the “exchange of women” paradigm taken from Claude Lévi-Strauss and, for example, René Girard and Gayle Rubin, to focus on the changing meanings of the bonds between men in a seventeenth-century play and an eighteenth-century novel.1 These discussions are part of a book-length study of what I am calling “male homosocial desire”—the whole spectrum of bonds between men, including friendship, mentorship, rivalry, institutional subordination, homosexual genitality, and economic exchange—within which the various forms of the traffic in women take place.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick is associate professor of English at Amherst College. She is the author of Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (forthcoming, 1985).
That photography is a supremely realistic medium may be the commonsense view, but—as Edward Steichen reminds us—it is by no means universal. Dissenters note how unlike reality a photograph is and how unlikely we are to confuse the one with the other. They point to “distortions” engendered by the photographic process and to the control which the photographer exercises over the finished product, the opportunities he enjoys for interpretation and falsification. Many emphasize the expressive nature of the medium, observing that photographs are inevitably colored by the photographer’s personal interests, attitudes, and prejudices.1 Whether any of these various considerations really does collide with photography’s claim of extraordinary realism depends, of course, on how that claim is to be understood.
Those who find photographs especially realistic sometimes think of photography as a further advance in a direction which many picture makers have taken during the last several centuries, as a continuation or culmination of the post-Renaissance quest for realism.2 There is some truth in this. Such earlier advances toward realism include the development of perspective and modeling techniques, the portrayal of ordinary and incidental details, attention to the effects of light, and so on. From its very beginning, photography mastered perspective (a system of perspective that works, anyway, if not the only one). Subtleties of shading, gradations of brightness nearly impossible to achieve with the brush, became commonplace. Photographs include as a matter of course the most mundane details of the scenes they portray—stray chickens, facial warts, clutters of dirty dishes. Photographic images easily can seem to be what painters striving for realism have always been after.
2. See André Bazin, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” What is Cinema?, trans. Hugh Gray, vol. 1 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967), p. 12; all further references to this work, abbreviated “OPI,” will be included in the text. See also Rudolf Arnheim, “Melancholy Unshaped,” Toward a Psychology of Art: Collected Essays (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967), p. 186.
Kendall L. Walton is professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan. He is currently completing a book on representation in the arts.
As a critique of a certain Western conception of the nature of signification, deconstruction focuses on the functioning of claim-making and claim-subverting structures within texts. A deconstructive reading is an attempt to show how the conspicuously foregrounded statements in a text are systematically related to discordant signifying elements that the text has thrown into its shadows or margins; it is an attempt both to recover what is lost and to analyze what happens when a text is read solely in function of intentionality, meaningfulness, and representativity. Deconstruction thus confers a new kind of readability on those elements in a text that readers have traditionally been trained to disregard, overcome, explain away, or edit out—contradictions, obscurities, ambiguities, incoherencies, discontinuities, ellipses, interruptions, repetitions, and plays of the signifier. In this sense it involves a reversal of values, a revaluation of the signifying function of everything that, in a signified-based theory of meaning, would constitute “noise.” Jacques Derrida has chosen to speak of the values involved in this reversal in terms of “speech” and “writing,” in which “speech” stands for the privilege accorded to meaning as immediacy, unity, identity, truth, and presence, while “writing” stands for the devalued functions of distance, difference, dissimulation, and deferment.
This transvaluation has a number of consequences for the appreciation of literature. By shifting the attention from intentional meaning to writing as such, deconstruction has enabled readers to become sensitive to a number of recurrent literary topoi in a new way. Texts have been seen as commentaries on their own production or reception through their pervasive thematizations of textuality—the myriad letters, books, tombstones, wills, inscriptions, road signs, maps, birthmarks, tracks, footprints, textiles, tapestries, veils, sheets, brown stockings, and self-abolishing laces that serve in one way or another as figures for the text to be deciphered or unraveled or embroidered upon. Thus, a deconstructor finds new delight in a Shakespearean character named Sir Oliver Martext or in Herman Melville’s catalog of whales as books in Moby Dick, or she makes jokes about the opposition between speech and writing by citing the encounter between Little Red Riding Hood and the phony granny.
Barbara Johnson is professor of Romance languages and literatures at Harvard University. She is the author of Défigurations du langage poétique and The Critical Difference, translator of Jacques Derrida’s Dissemination, and editor of The Pedagogical Imperative: Teaching as a literary Genre.
For the moment, I assume that we have some rough idea of what “title” is supposed to mean: the large letters on the spine of a book, the words on the center of the first page of a musical score, or the little plate on the museum wall to the right of the painting (if we ignore the artist’s name, the date, and the geographical and historical data). Thus examples of titles would be The Taming of the Shrew, “Mapleleaf Rag,” or The Birth of Venus, but that generates a rather complex set of answers.
Let us start with what is undoubtedly the simplest situation: where an inscription of the title is physically part of the work. The most familiar of the aquatints of Francisco Goya which collectively are called Los Caprichos—the forty-third—is titled The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, or, more precisely, the Spanish equivalent of those words, for the Spanish words appear as a large and significant element on the plate, indeed occupying more than 10 percent of its surface. In such cases titles are not given: they are elements of works, not by inference or subtle metaphor but in a most literal way. No other title fits in that way. That print could not be called Bats and Cats and Sleeping Man with the expectation that those words should serve as its title. Some works—most works—on the other hand, allow for a range of acceptable titles. Guernica could have been titled The Bombing of a Basque Village or Luftwaffe Hell. Neither of these would, I suspect, have been as good a title as Guernica, but they remain possibilities, even though the familiar title is not physically part of the work. (And, of course, some expressions could not serve as title of the mural: Sylvan Springtime or Saint Francis in Ecstasy. Of course, Picasso could have stood up and said, “I hereby name this work Marlene Dietrich on the Beach at Deauville,” and no one could claim that the locution was false—but more about this later.) Some works, incidentally, contain words, even sentences, and are not titled accordingly. Several familiar works of René Magritte include a most realistic representation of a tobacco pipe and the large words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” (Of course it isn’t a pipe; it’s a pipe-picture, we might say. That’s the point.) Examples of the titles given by Magritte to paintings in this series are L’Air et la chanson and Le Trahison des images. Obviously, not all works of visual art which contain linguistic inscriptions have titles which correspond to those inscriptions. The simplest situation is hardly much help.
John Fisher is professor of philosophy at Temple University and editor of the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. He is also the editor of Perceiving Artworks (1980) and Essays on Aesthetics (1983).
In this paper I want to say some things about the way William James talks—as, for example, in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), the famous Gifford Lectures in which (as it appears) James attempted to rehabilitate religion as a subject fit for philosophical discourse, or as something still worth talking about.1 Some familiar background for this matter is provided by the epigraph I have just given from “What Pragmatism Means,” in which James shows himself to be a nominalist as against a metaphysical realist (see P, pp. 52-52; WWJ, p. 380). The nominalist position, as it applies to James, would be that words make sense to us but not for the reasons we give when we say that we designate things by them, because these things (whether gods or atoms) are never quite there, or at all events never quite things, in the way our language makes them out to be. It does not matter whether we are speaking of universals or particulars: words mean because of the way they hang together in sentences and contexts, and they fail to mean when they fail to fit in, not because of a failure of reference. It is not necessary (or not enough) to claim for our words that they are anchored in reality. The intelligibility of a word (or an utterance or a text) is always a hermeneutical construction, in the sense that the word depends for its meaning upon how it is taken. Whence the meaning of a word is always rhetorically contingent as well, because it is determined in varying measures by the situation in which it occurs and also, therefore, by the audience who is meant to hear it in a certain way, and who may take it in this certain way or perhaps in another way entirely, depending on the situations. We shall see how James exploits this contingency in his own way of speaking. A word can, of course, be taken as referring to some really existing entity, and in fact most words are taken in this way because (James would say) this is how they works for us. Words usually end up being about something. A nominalist in this case would be just someone who believes that (1) words do not have to refer to really existing entities in order to be taken in this realistic way, and (2) most words are taken in this realistic way for no good philosophical reason. But what might be allowed to stand as a good philosophical reason for taking words one way rather than another is exactly what our problem is, and it is also (but only in a loose sort of way) one of the things this paper is about.
Gerald L. Bruns is the author of Modern Poetry and the Idea of Language (1974) and Inventions: Writing, Textuality, and Understanding in Literary History (1982). He is currently at work on a new book, Hermeneutics, Ancient and Modern. His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry, “Canon and Power in the Hebrew Scriptures,” appeared in the March 1984 issue.
In trying to say what modernism is (or was), we must remind ourselves that it cannot and must not—to be properly described and understood—be confined only to the arts of music, literature, painting, sculpture, theater, architecture, those arts with which we normally associate the term “culture.” Modernism can be said to embrace, in the broadest terms, not only the arts of Western culture but also science, technology, the family, marriage, sexuality, economics, the politics of democracy, the politics of authoritarianism, the politics of totalitarianism, and such academic disciplines as philosophy and the social sciences of sociology and anthropology (among others). Its influence and effects have been all-pervasive. No corner of twentieth-century life has escaped its profound alteration of both the individual and society. It has radicalized all levels of human existence.
What, then, is modernism?
Some have described it as a state of “chronic revolution,” that is, revolution against the past, against tradition, against history itself. Others have pointed to its voracious appetite for innovation, for the search for the “new,” for the hunger to be “original”—to be the first and last with something unique and difference, whatever that something might be or in whatever area of human endeavor it might arise.
Still others have characterized modernism as the application to all realms of human life of forms of structural rationalization, that is, finding rationally structured ways of being and doing regardless of consequences and, more especially, rationalizing away the mysteries and questions which have to do with meaning, that is, morality and ethics—those areas that lie outside the purely rational. And still others have viewed modernism as a condition of freedom within which the individual can be himself, unfettered and uninhibited, released from the drag of superego and conscience, a separate entity of being, unanswerable to others whether in the form of individuals or society as a whole.
Last but not least, there are those who continue to see modernism as a self-perpetuating form of avant-gardism, always at the point of the interface between the present and the future, always ready to move on to the next stage because living itself is a process of constant change, constant motion, perpetual transformation.
See also: George Rochberg, Kramer vs. Kramer
George Rochberg is the composer of a large body of musical works and the author of a recently published collection of essays, The Aesthetics of Survival, A Composer’s View of Twentieth-Century Music. He is currently writing his fifth symphony, on a commission from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In 1983 he retired from the University of Pennsylvania as Emeritus Annenberg Professor of the Humanities.
Modernism has been a celebration of the present. Why does it need a legacy (beyond its rejection of the past)? Why should that which was born (in Europe, at least) in the spirit of rebellion perpetuate itself as tomorrow’s past? Modernism has been profoundly reflective of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century cultural values. Is that not enough? It is not that modernism has forgotten the past—an art that rebels against its past must understand its adversary—but rather that it asks us not to forget the present. The revolt of modernism was made possible, if not inevitable, by the rediscovery of the past. In earlier, eras, when the past was less readily accessible, artists worked for their present with little thought about their heritage. Renaissance composers, for example, generally knew little of music even two generations old; much medieval music theory and composition were based on misconceptions of Greek models. Yet by the nineteenth century, works from the past were available and understood. Virtually all composers agreed with Johannes Brahms, who reputedly said of Ludwig van Beethoven, “You have no idea how the likes of us feel when we hear the tramp of a giant like him behind us.” Historical consciousness had entered the arts, and artists were both threatened by competition with the past and seduced by the powerful idea that their works might outlive them. The Romantic artist became a genius speaking to posterity. Gustav Mahler was not the only Romanticist to pin his hopes on the future: “My time will yet come.” Small wonder that, once the future came to be, its artists rebelled against pronouncements from their past—the time rightfully belonged to them and no longer to Mahler’s generation. While many twentieth-century artists continued to create for their future, the most extreme modernists (in music, Erik Satie and Charles Ives and, a generation later, John Cage) rejected not only their past but also the quest for immortality. They have written of their day and for their day. The real legacy of modernism is that it has no legacy.
Jonathan D. Kramer is professor of music theory and composition at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati and also program annotator and new music advisor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He is currently working on Time and the Meanings of Music (forthcoming). His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, “New Temporalities in Music,” appeared in Spring 1981.