Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 2008

Volume 34 Issue 5
    • 1CI Coeditors
    • Unlike the essays in our special issues, the twelve contributions contained in this volume do not address a common theme. Instead, they share a spirit of celebration and a conviction that Tom has played a remarkable role in forging the alliance between theory and interdisciplinary scholarship during the past thirty years. If, during this time, the journal has had a special responsibility for shaping practices of scholarship and academic exchange, it has done so primarily because of Tom’s intellectual restlessness, infectious curiosity, and his constant need to recast the parameters of academic discourse.

      We present this issue to our colleague and friend, and to our readers, in the hope it will epitomize the best of CI even as it stands outside the normal run—that, like Tom himself, it will be at once paradigm and singularity.

      —Lauren Berlant, Bill Brown, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Arnold I. Davidson, Elizabeth Helsinger, Françoise Meltzer, Richard Neer, and Joel Snyder

    • 2Elizabeth Abel
    • Writing within a couple of years of each other from Paris and Denmark (South Carolina), Baudry and Sellers forecast the path that film theory would travel from the heyday of the apparatus in the early 1970s to the renewed focus on audiences and exhibition sites in the late 1980s and 1990s. That trajectory had been anticipated decades earlier through a different lens, however. The Colored Balcony signs on the rear doors of the theater instructing Sellers and his companions where to sit had by the 1930s drawn a second camera to the movies. Although the still camera is often seen by cinematic teleologists as merely the movie camera’s antecedent, a technological way station between the camera obscura and the moving pictures that released the image from its capture within a single frame, the still camera became a movie critic when it trained its gaze on the movie theater. Making visible what the cinematic camera didn’t see, the still camera performed a kind of film theory before the letter, quite literally before the camera’s visual observations could be formulated discursively.

      Elizabeth Abel is professor of English and director of graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis (1989) and Signs of the Times: The Visual Politics of Jim Crow (2008), the editor of Writing and Sexual Difference (1982), and the coeditor of The Voyage In (1983) and Female Subjects in Black and White: Race, Psychoanalysis, Feminism (1997).

    • 21Slavoj Žižek
    • One of the main antitotalitarian clichés is that of intellectuals (in Paul Johnson’s infamous use of the term) seduced by the “authentic” touch of violent spectacles and outbursts, in love with the ruthless exercise of power, which supplements their wimpy existence; this draws a long line from Plato and Rousseau to Heidegger, not to mention the standard list of the dupes of Stalinism (Brecht, Sartre). According to liberal common wisdom, philosophers in politics stand for a catastrophic misfortune: beginning with Plato, they either miserably fail or succeed… in supporting tyrants. The reason, so the story goes on, is that philosophers try to impose their notion on reality, violating it. No wonder that, from Plato to Heidegger, they are resolutely antidemocratic (with the exception of some empiricists and pragmatists). So when the common wisdom hears of Marxists who defend Marx, claiming that his ideas were not faithfully realized in Stalinism, the reply goes: thank God! It would have been even worse to fully realize them! Heidegger at least was willing to draw consequences of his catastrophic experience and conceded that those who think ontologically have to err ontically, that the gap is irreducible, that there is no “philosophical politics” proper.

      Slavoj Žižek, dialectical‐materialist philosopher and psychoanalyst, is codirector at the International Center for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London. His latest publications include The Parallax View (2006) and How to Read Lacan (2007).

    • 36Ingrid Monson
    • I mostly discuss auditory perceptual agency in musical listening and performing, as well as the relationship between hearing and the mind. The similarities and differences between hearing and seeing in acts of perceptual agency are of particular interest here and also the inevitability of linguistic reports of that experience. I have chosen agency as a figure to organize my discussion because it indexes several strands of social and cultural theory that have been key to my intellectual trajectory. I have chosen perception for its ability to link the social, cultural, and scientific. Indeed, the larger question lurking behind this essay is, What is to become of social construction (not to mention the humanities) in an increasingly biological and technological episteme?

      Ingrid Monson is the Quincy Jones Professor of African American Music at Harvard University. She is the author of, among other works, Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction (1996) and Freedom Sounds: Jazz, Civil Rights, and Africa, 1950–1967 (2005).

    • 59J. Hillis Miller
    • What stories about pictures want is to be read, just as pictures want to be viewed. The picture asks, demands, implores that I look at it. The story asks, demands, implores that I read it. Reading a story or looking at a picture not only responds to what they seem to desire. It also fills in a want or lack in both. What is a story that is not read, whose pages remain closed within the covers of a book? What is a picture that is not looked at, that, so to speak, has its face turned to the wall? (I shall return to that figure later.) Reading or looking, in each case, seem to complete a purpose that is not so much that of the writer or painter as a need intrinsic to the works themselves. It is a desire somehow built into the works’ material substance. Stories urgently want to be read. Pictures urgently want to be looked at.

      J. Hillis Miller is UCI Distinguished Research Professor at the University of California at Irvine. His most recent book is Literature as Conduct: Speech Acts in Henry James (2005). He is at work on books about communities in literature and about Jacques Derrida’s late work.

    • 98Michael Taussig
    • You really have to wonder what that one distinct word might have been because in our time, since 9/11, the anxieties of the regime seem quite able to accommodate revelation of deceit. To date the war on terror traces a curve from the phoney allegation of weapons of mass destruction to the surprising admission in late 2006 of “extraordinary rendition” and hence of torture by the president of the United States. This pattern of lying and admission, or of lying followed by a breezy dismissal of one’s “mistake,” plus a raft of neologisms sufficient to keep William Safire busy for another lifetime, is to my mind a marked feature of this new war. I am especially moved to remark on how easily admissions of deceit are made by the White House, as when the president did a comic routine for the Radio and Television Association Dinner in 2004 in Washington, during which slides of him looking under Oval Office furniture for weapons of mass destruction were shown.

      Michael Taussig first met Tom Mitchell a decade ago when Tom wore a leather jacket and smoked cigarettes in New York City. They talked a good deal about fetishism, of course, and Taussig, who had pretty much given up on professors, said to himself, “Why aren’t there more academics like this? He makes it fun all over again.” Taussig has contributed a number of essays to Critical Inquiry, such as “The Language of Flowers” (Autumn 2003), and has published a few books, including The Devil and Commodity Fetishism (1980); Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man (1987); The Nervous System (1992); Mimesis and Alterity (1993); Law in a Lawless Land (2003); and My Cocaine Museum (2004).

    • 117Teresa de Lauretis
    • If the weight of this last image—a waterfall contained by a translucent barrier of heat—carries into the final scene of the novel, then the tonal modulation of internal tears, crying, and weeping reiterates the doctor’s final words, which prophesy the ending of the novel: “‘now nothing, but wrath and weeping’” (N, p. 166). And if, as I read it, the figural weave of the text inscribes sexuality as drive, as trauma and enigma, then weeping is both the bodily manifestation and the textual signifier of the psychic drift beyond the pleasure principle toward a zero level of tension and the silent quiescence of inorganic matter. In their peculiar punctuation, the doctor’s words, “‘now nothing, but wrath and weeping,’” do not indicate an endpoint to the drift. Denying the comfort of quiescence after “the fury of the night rots out its fire,” they join together wrath and weeping, the sound and fury of sex and the silent drive to death, in the emphatic negation of any possible redemption (“Now nothing”). Just as Barnes refused to provide the text with the comforting closure of a narrative resolution.

      In retrospect, I think that “the terror of uncertain signs” that made Nightwood unreadable for me was the disturbing, spectral presence of something silent, uncanny, unrepresentable, and yet figured—something with which I could only come to terms as the textual inscription of the death drive.

      Teresa de Lauretis is professor of the History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her most recent books are Figures of Resistance: Essays in Feminist Theory (2007) and the forthcoming Freud’s Drive: Readings in Psychoanalysis, Literature, and Film (2008).

    • 130Ronald Paulson
    • Teeth and dentistry (as repair work) dominate Experience. There are twenty‐seven entries in the index under “dental problems.” The book is an essay on teeth, precisely English teeth, and a commentary on Money. Amis writes at one point, “I hadn’t smiled unreservedly for at least five years” (E, p. 48) and, again, of “decades of not smiling” (E, p. 85). “Teeth were clearly, or apparently, connected to rank,” Amis writes, citing the “preference of the working and lower‐middle classes” for dentures and recalling Waugh’s sneer in Brideshead Revisited at the “grinning dentures” of a traveling salesman, yet noting the irony that Waugh himself endured dentures in his later years. Amis’s point is that everyone, of whatever class, “had better teeth than me: football hooligans, junkies, tramps,” against which, self‐servingly, he calls up the dental problems of the great moderns Joyce and Nabokov, Joyce’s Daedalus and Nabokov’s Pnin, locating bad teeth and himself in the upper reaches of modern Anglo‐American literature (E, p. 119). His quotation of Joyce’s letter to his brother Stanislaus could have been the nucleus of his own novel Money: “My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions” (E, p. 114).

      Ronald Paulson is professor emeritus of English at Johns Hopkins University. His latest works include The Life of Henry Fielding: A Critical Biography (2000), Hogarth’s Harlot: Sacred Parody in Enlightenment England (2003), and Sin and Evil: Moral Values in Literature (2007).

    • 146Daniel Tiffany
    • The term modernism calls to mind, justifiably, a complex program of experimentation in the arts, yet the decades of the 1930s and 1940s—the period of so‐called late modernism—saw the emergence of critical and aesthetic categories which have resisted historical and theoretical analysis, in part because of their uncertain relation to the formalist legacy of modernism. I am referring to the aesthetic ideology of kitsch and to the poetic or philosophical principle of the enigma (or riddle)—an aesthetic model which, unlike kitsch, has entirely escaped the purview of critical assessments aimed at producing a new modernism. Although the submerged correspondences between kitsch and enigmatic expression remain beyond the scope of this essay, it is essential to note that both concepts emerged in response to the gradual dissolution of the historical avant‐garde and to the development of fascism in Europe.

      Daniel Tiffany is professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Toy Medium (2000) and Radio Corpse (2005).

    • 172Fredric Jameson
    • The first question with which one is confronted in the representation of space flight is one it shares with some other genres, such as tragedy, for example, namely, why should we take pleasure in the contemplation of what must be among the most painful and uncomfortable, constricting, claustrophobic physical experiences recorded by human beings? There must be more to this fascination than simple Schadenfreude, one feels, more than the witnessing of all this from the safety of the reader’s armchair or the seat in the movie theater; and yet adventure has always been associated with the representation of extreme peril from a distance—the dangers of the open sea in a storm, the pursuit by ferocious enemies; the more improbable the hero’s challenges, the greater our sedentary enjoyment, which is warm when the hero is freezing and pleasantly cool when he sweats in the great heat of the desert or in the tropics with their hordes of biting insects.

      Fredric Jameson is director of the Institute for Critical Theory at Duke University and a professor of French and comparative literature. Among his recent books is A Singular Modernity (2002).

    • 184Michael Fried
    • A flashback: I was at Ken Noland’s place in Vermont (Robert Frost’s old farm) and had just dropped mescaline, as used to be said. I was waiting for it to take effect while all around me in Ken’s spotless studio men and women my age or younger (Bennington had gone co‐ed) were dancing in place to the Stones—not me, though, I was shouting calmly over the beat to Clem, who apart from a few drinks hadn’t taken anything. Much later that night he would find me slumped at the kitchen table gazing fixedly at the remains of chocolate ice‐cream melting in an iridescent bowl. “Oh shit,” he would groan. But for the moment I could still pass for normal, and Clem and I let our attention drift from the dancers to Ken’s new Olympic‐size pool, which we looked down at through a grand floor‐to‐ceiling window taking up most of one wall. In the water, beneath powerful lights, another crowd of students swam naked back and forth, or openly made out, or simply horsed around. It was one of those legendary occasions when either you were there or you were not. I was there and I’m forever glad because it revealed the great critic at his most perceptive. “It’s an unusual generation,” Clem growled non‐judgmentally, having turned from the exhibitionists in the pool back toward the dancers in the ninety‐five‐degree heat. “See how they’re all wearin’ wool shirts and heavy boots!” And they were, he was right.

      Michael Fried is the J. R. Herbert Boone Professor of Humanities and the History of Art at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent books are Menzel’s Realism: Art and Embodiment in Nineteenth‐Century Berlin and The Next Bend in the Road (poems). He is currently a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, where he is completing a book on Caravaggio. In 2004 he received the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Distinguished Achievement Award.

    • 191Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
    • It’s a Friday evening, 21 September 1956, the occasion of the First International Conference of Black Writers and Artists, held at the Sorbonne’s Amphithéâtre Déscartes in Paris, now in its third day. In the audience is Aimé Cesaire, Cheikh‐Anta Diop, Frantz Fanon, George Lamming, Jean Price‐Mars, Jacques Alexis, and Léopold‐Sédar Senghor, just to begin a long and glorious roll call. With the conspicuous exception of W. E. B. Du Bois, who was denied a passport by the U.S. State Department, here is assembled practically every major black critical thinker of the age. Here are the authors of Third World liberation, world‐historic theorists of colonial resistance, forging new ideologies, new analyses, new “weapons of theory” out of negritude, Marxism, psychoanalysis, African communalism, you name it; remember, it’s 1956, and these are the heady days of grand theory for the black world. Never had the promise of a genuine politics of culture seemed more real, more realizable.

      Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.