Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Spring 1989

Volume 15 Issue 3
    • 497Garry Wills
    • I have on my desk an artifact of wonderful contrivance. Though its outer skin is of flimsy cardboard standing over half a foot high, it is squarely based, making it nearly untippable on shelves. It is a deodorant product called ban—a box containing a bottle containing a liquid. But this simple division of the artifact into three components gives no idea of the complex relationships sustained between part and part, or within each part taken separately.

      Study, first, the bottle. It emerges from the box a tall and shapely miracle of ballast. It emerges from the box a tall and shapely miracle of ballast. Its most prominent feature, the revolving-ball applicator on top, is airy enough not to destabilize the three-and-one-half ounces of liquid in the bottle’s pyramidal base. It looks like one of those skirted Egyptian statues with no waist to speak of—bulbous of headdress or hairstyle above, firm-footed below, pinched in the middle.

      The box, despite artfully cutout windows, gives little suggestion of the Nefertiti-like interior. On the contrary: the box suggests that the bottle is bulkier than, unclothed, it turns out to be. Still, one could argue that the box is almost suicidally candid. It not only confesses but proclaims how much of the interior is taken up by the applicator (leaving, obviously, less space for the stuff that is to be applied). The upper window space on the bottle is intruded on by a semicircle of cardboard—the lower half of a full yellow circle boldly marked off from the green and white product colors that reign everywhere else. Inside the circle, wide letters boast: WIDE BALL. The circle is, in fact, exactly the size of the wide ball as seen in section, giving us what seems an almost geometrical regard for truth in advertising. The circle is repeated, at full size, on both ends of the box; but there it is white, with WIDE BALL printed in green. Why this emphasis on an empty ball, on the fact that one is being sold a great content of air? The ball is shrouded by a huge plastic cover, a screw-on cowl that gives the Egyptian figure its impressive headdress.

      See also:  Garry Wills, Washington's Citizen Virtue: Greenough and Houdon  ·  Garry Wills, Critical Inquiry ("Kritik") in Clausewitz

      Garry Wills, adjunct professor of history at Northwestern University, is the author of Reagan’s America (1987). His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry was “Washington’s Citizen Virtue: Greenough and Houdon” (March 1984).

    • 510Michael Rogin
    • A giant statue of the mother goddess, Ishtar, presides over Intolerance (1916), the movie D. W. Griffith made after his triumph with The Birth of a Nation (1915). Ishtar sits above Babylon’s royal, interior court, but the court itself is constructed on so gigantic a scale that is diminishes the size of the goddess. Perhaps to establish Ishtar’s larger-than-life proportions, Griffith posed himself alongside her in a production still from the movie (fig. 1). The director is the same size as the sculptured grown man who sucks at Ishtar’s breast; both males are dwarfed by the goddess’ dimensions.

      Ishtar connects Griffith to the concern with originary female power current at the turn of the twentieth century. The appearance of the New Woman and the attention to the matriarchal origins of culture were signs of a crisis in patriarchy. But the great mother could support masculine reassertion as well as female power. Ishtar will show us how.

      See also: Michael Rogin, Blackface, White Noise: The Jewish Jazz Singer Finds His Voice

      Michael Rogin is professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent books are Subversive Genealogy: The Politics and Art of Herman Melville (1985), and “Ronald Reagan,” the Movie and Other Episodes in Political Demonology (1987).

    • 556Stanley Fish
    • When the chorus at the end of Samson Agonistes declares that “all is best,” what it means is that the best of all possible things, the thing everyone in the play most desires, has finally happened: Samson is dead. This is, of course, not quite fair. What the chorus most wants is that things once more be as they were, and its moment of highest joy in the play involves the speculation that a revived Hebrew hero may “now be dealing dole among his foes / And over heaps of slaughtered walk his way” (ll. 1529-30).1 “That were a joy presumptuous to be through” (l. 1531), responds Manoa, indicating that he too wishes for nothing more than the return of the days when his son “walked about … / On hostile ground” “like a petty god” (ll. 530-31, 529). This is also what Harapha wants for different reasons when he says of Samson’s change of fortune, I “wish it had not been, / Though for no friendly intent” (ll. 1077-78); and it is what Dalila wants for more reasons than Samson can shake a stick at when she laments an event more “perverse … than I foresaw” (l. 737) and attempts to mitigate if she cannot cancel the effects of her “rash but more unfortunate misdeed” (l. 747). Everyone, in short, wants to turn back the clock, and this, of course, includes Samson, who is obsessed with the disparity between his present and his past states: “Why was my breeding ordered and prescribed / … / … if I must die / Betrayed, captive[?]” (ll. 30-33); “Promise was that I / Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver; / Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him / Eyeless in Gaza” (ll. 38-41); “The base degree to which I now am fall’n” (l. 414); “I was his nursling once and choice delight” (l. 633).


      1. John Milton, Samson Agonistes, The Poems of John Milton, ed. John Carey and Alastair Fowler (London and New York, 1968); hereafter cited by line number.

      See also: Stanley Fish, Working on the Chain Gang: Interpretation in the Law and in Literary Criticism  ·  Stanley Fish, Profession Despise Thyself: Fear and Self-Loathing in Literary Studies

      Stanley Fish is Arts and Sciences Professor of English and Professor of Law and chairman of the English department at Duke University. His most recent book is Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Legal and Literary Studies.

    • 587David Van Leer
    • [Eve] Sedgwick examines from an explicitly feminist, implicitly Marxist perspective the relation of homosexuality to more general social bonds between members of the same sex (“male homosocial desires”). She argues that the similarity between (socially acceptable) homosocial desire and (socially condemned) homosexuality lies at the root of much homophobia. Moreover, she sees this tension as misogynist to the extent that battles fought over patriarchy within the homosocial world automatically exclude women from that patriarchal power. Thus she places homosexuality and its attendant homophobia within a wider dynamic of social relationships.1

      Yet even as Sedgwick invents a more sophisticated definition of “homophobia,” she may permit misreading of a more elementary sort. Her use of vocabulary is troubling. In a slangy prose that regularly juxtaposes James Hogg and Louis Lepke, Tennyson and Howard Keel, references to the “campiness” of Thackeray’s “bitchy” bachelors or the “feminized” cuckolds of Wycherley’s The Country Wife seem tame enough. Yet there is a political difference between the jokes. One can burlesque fifties musicals or organized crime with impunity; to refer to sexually embattled men with feminine adjectives, however, is to reinforce a sexual stereotype that sees in the supposed effeminacy of homosexuals a sign of their deviance. Nor are women empowered when terms of female degradation like “bitch” are turned back against men: the ironic reversal does not challenge the terms’ validity but reaffirms it, showing they have an even wider range of applicability than had been thought.


      1. Throughout my analysis, I use “homosexual” and “gay” exclusively in reference to male sexuality. I do so in part to echo Sedgwick’s emphasis and in part because the logic of my own argument does not empower me to speak on female homosexuality.

      See also: David Van Leer, Trust and Trade

      David Van Leer is associate professor of English and American literature at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of Emerson’s Epistemology: The Argument of the Essays (1986) and articles on American literature and popular culture.

    • 606Stanley Cavell
    • Can one conceive something to say about Allan Bloom’s view of America and the American university that he hasn’t already heard? Setting aside the perhaps undiscussable differences in what we each saw in our students of the 1960s, I find two regions in which Bloom’s experience and mine differ systematically that are specific and clear enough to be stated briefly, perhaps usefully: first, our experience of the position of philosophy in the intellectual economy we were presented with in the two decades prior to the 1960s; second, our experience of the modern and the popular in the arts. My citing of these differences can only prove worthwhile, however, against a background of agreement I find with his work over the centrality of a cluster of issues, of which I specify five: a first agreement concerns the illustriousness (in Emerson’s sense, which includes illustrativeness) of the university in the life of a democracy; a second concerns the irreplaceability of Great Books—what Thoreau calls scriptures—in (let’s call it) a humanistic education; a third concerns the unaware imbibing of European thought by a chronically unprepared American constitution—a condition that is as live for us, or should be, as when Emerson was founding American thinking by demonstrating his knack of inheriting, by transfiguring, European philosophy; a fourth moment of agreement concerns the goal of a democratic university education as keeping open the idea of philosophy as a way of life, call it the life of the mind, a name for which might be Moral Perfectionism (Bloom speaks of the longing for completeness, Emerson speaks instead of a capacity for partiality, and of the courage to become—both see in the goal a desire for the world’s human possibilities, and both are aware that the aspiration is always threatening to turn into debased narcissism or foolish imitation); a fifth sense of my agreement with Bloom concerns the threat that a discourse about such issues, such as the prose fashioned in Bloom’s book (manifestly the product of a lifetime of reading and of a devotion to teaching), is becoming unintelligible to the culture that has produced it, and not alone to the young (in my experience, less to them than to others).


      Stanley Cavell is the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University. His most recent works include In Quest of the Ordinary: Lines of Skepticism and Romanticism and This New Yet Unapproachable America: Essays after Emerson after Wittgenstein

    • 611Robert J. Griffin
    • The gist of Edward Said’s attack on Israel (“An Ideology of Difference,” Critical Inquiry 12 [Autumn 1985]: 38-58) is that Zionism is racism. The very appearance of his essay in a special issue devoted to racism is an interesting fact in itself. But the fact that the editors up until now received no responses to Said carries special significance. It signals, or can be read as signaling, that the literary-critical establishment has reached a consensus and that liberal supporters of Israel in our discipline have retreated from the field.

      I may be wrong about this, of course, for other explanations are possible, but Houston A. Baker, Jr.’s observations a year later on that special issue would seem to reinforce my view. Baker describes Said’s (and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s) method as aiming “to prove that ‘A’ is as good as ‘B’ and to induce shame in defenders of ‘B’ who have made other axiological choices.” Baker protests against this method, however, since it gives too much play to “B,” so that “it is difficult to hear a Palestinian voice separate from the world of Jewish discourse.” Then he adds in parentheses: “(Of course, Jews are not likely to feel this way, and will probably call for Said’s head on a platter. But that is the necessary reaction of well-financed client states.)”2 In Baker’s language, only Jews are likely to disagree, and these “Jews,” conceived as a unitary group, are a client state (no doubt of some evil empire) and are compared by means of allusion to the corrupt, libidinous king who executed the true prophet (in this case, Said), the herald of Jesus. These comments are remarkable in any context, but especially so in a forum on racism.

      See also: Edward W. Said, Opponents, Audiences, Constituencies, and Community  · Johannes Fabian, Presence and Representation: The Other and Anthropological Writing

      Robert J. Griffin is a lecturer in English at Tel Aviv University. He is currently working on two books, one on Samuel Johnson and one on literary historiography.

    • 626Daniel Boyarin and Jonathan Boyarin
    • As critics, a vital part of our task is to examine the ways in which language mystifies and reveals, serves and disserves human desires and aspirations. In that spirit we feel that engaging the leading Palestinian intellectual in the United States in a critical dialogue is a vital task. Although this reply takes issue with several points in Edward Said’s paper, “An Ideology of Difference” (Critical Inquiry 12 [Autumn 1985]: 38-58), our critique is intended as part of the struggle for increased mutual empathy. We in no way wish to deny Said’s claims regarding the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations, nor the validity of Said and other Palestinian intellectuals’ efforts to counter the destructive military, political, and ideological forces that stand in the way of the Palestinians’ achievement and self-determination. Said’s critiques of the idea that Israel is somehow above criticism, and of the elimination of the Palestinians from “Western” discourse, are both valid.2

      We wish to make our own perspective clear at the start. We are both Jewish nationalists. We believe that it’s a good thing to be Jewish. We believe that those of Jewish heritage who fail to explore and re-create that heritage lose something of themselves. We think that Judaism still has a role to play in the healing of the world. By making this statement, we are not claiming that our views are identical,3 nor that they are the same from day to day, nor, a fortiori, that they are identical or even similar to those of many or most other people who would define themselves in that way. This, we note, touches on one of the aspects of Said’s paper of which we are most critical: The statements that he makes at several points, which seem to reify Zionists and Zionism into one model of theory and social practice, as well as his occlusion of the fact that other options for Jewish self-renewal were obviated by genocide or Soviet repression.


      2. We are hardly alone among Jewish intellectuals in concurring with this point. Compare the recent comments by the American Jewish leader Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg:

      In memory of the Holocaust we have been reminded by you that silence is a sin. You have spoken out against indifference and injustice. Why are you making a special exception of Israel? Do you think that our silence will help Israel? The texts that we study and restudy teach the contrary.

      (Arthur Hertzberg, “Open Letter to Elie Wiesel,” New York Review of Books, 18 Aug. 1988, 14.)


      Daniel Boyarin is associate professor of midrash at Bar-Ilan University. His articles on midrash and theory have appeared in Poetics Today and Representations, and a monograph on the subject is forthcoming this year. Jonathan Boyarin is a fellow of the Max Weinreich Center at the VIVO Institute for Jewish Research. He edited and translated, with Jack Kugelmass, From a Ruined Garden: The Memorial Books of Polish Jewry, and is currently completing an ethnography of Polish Jews in Paris. He is active in the International Jewish Peace Union.

    • 634Edward W. Said
    • Since neither of these two inordinately long responses deals seriously with what I said in “An Ideology of Difference” (written in 1984, published in Critical Inquiry 12 [Autumn 1985]: 38-58), both the Boyarins and Griffin are made even more absurd by actual events occurring as they wrote. The Israeli army has by now been in direct and brutal military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza for twenty-one years; the intifadah, surely the most impressive and disciplined anticolonial insurrection in this century, is now in its eleventh month. The daily killings of unarmed Palestinians by armed Israelis, soldiers and settlers, numbers several hundred; yesterday two more Palestinians were killed, the day before (7 October 1988) four were killed. The beatings, expulsions, wholesale collective punishments, the closure of schools and universities, as well as the imprisonment of dozens of thousands in places like Ansar III, a concentration camp, continue. A V sign flashed by a young Palestinian carries with six months in jail; a Palestinian flag can get you up to ten years; you risk burial alive by zealous Israel Defense Forces soldiers; if you are a member of a popular committee you are liable to arrest, and all professional, syndical, or community associations are now illegal. Any Palestinian can be put in jail without charge or trial for up to six months, renewable, for any offense, which needn’t be revealed to him or her. For non-Jews, approximately 1.5 million people on the West Bank and Gaza, there are thus no rights whatever. On the other hand, Jews are protected by Israeli law on the Occupied Territories. In such a state of apartheid—so named by most honest Israelis—the intifadah continues, as does the ideology of difference vainly attempting to repress and willfully misinterpret its significance.


      Edward W. Said is Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry is “Representing the Colonized: Anthropology’s Interlocutors” (Winter 1989).

    • 647Robert Markley
    • Oscar Kenshur’s “Demystifying the Demystifiers: Metaphysical Snares of Ideological Criticism” (Critical Inquiry 14 [Winter 1988]: 335-53) should go a long way toward convincing most readers that the cure for “ideological” (or Marxist) criticism is worse than the disease. His attempt to uncouple ideology and epistemology in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and Michael Ryan’s Marxism and Deconstruction belongs to an increasingly popular subgenre of metacriticism, the “more-historical-than-thou” offensive against Marxists and new historicists for their alleged essentialist procedures.1 There is no question that Kenshur raises significant issues about the nature of ideological analysis that should be debated. However, he has neither interrogated the basis of his own assumptions about seventeenth-century views of language theory and epistemology nor convincingly demonstrated, to my mind, that Ryan is somehow wrong in his reading of Hobbes. The weakness of Kenshur’s argument is that he seems intent on erecting the windmills at which he wants to tile—most damagingly for his argument a simplistic notion of ideology that he assumes both Hobbes and Ryan share. By accepting a deterministic notion of ideology, Kenshur offers a “corrective” to overzealous claims for the significance of ideological criticism that has the effect not of “sav[ing history] from its friends” (p. 353) but of returning it to the status of “background” or “context” that it had been for a previous generation of New Critics. The terms in which he casts his argument—epistemology and/or (but not as) ideology—redefine “ideological criticism” in a polemical manner designed, it seems, to discourage anyone from wanting to practice it. His ultimate purpose is not simply to save “history” from the Ryans of the world but to inoculate his versions of literature and philosophy against the ideological virus. To respond fully to the various issues that Kenshur raises would require detailed analyses of seventeenth-century literary and political culture and of the institutionalization of twentieth-century criticism; simply to discuss the differences between Hobbes and Ryan on epistemology or ideology would require a full-length study of the various discourses in which and against which their works are situated. Given the limitations of a critical response, I shall confine my remarks to two suspect areas of Kenshur’s argument: his characterization of seventeenth-century notions of the relationships among language, epistemology, and ideology and his assumptions about the nature of claims currently made for ideological analysis.


      1. See, for example, Edward Pechter, “The New Historicism and Its Discontents: Politicizing Renaissance Drama,” PMLA 102 (May 1987): 292-303.

      See also: Michael Fried, Jeff Wall, Wittgenstein, and the Everyday

      Robert Markley teaches in the English department of the University of Washington and is editor of The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation. He is the author of Two-Edg’d Weapons: Style and Ideology in the Comedies of Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve (1988) and coauthor, with Kenneth J. Koespel, of Newton and the Failure of Messianic Science: A Postmodern Inquiry into the Discourses of Natural Philosophy (forthcoming).

    • 658Oscar Kenshur
    • The subtitle of the essay that Robert Markley attacks had, in its penultimate version, a parenthetical word that was ultimately dropped. It read, “(Avoidable) Metaphysical Snares of Ideological Criticism.” The editor of Critical Inquiry, W. J. T. Mitchell, politely suggested that my subtitle was redundant: snares, he observed, are by nature avoidable. Indeed they are. In fact, my parentheses were intended to indicate that the word didn’t really need to be there. The self-conscious redundancy was intended to underlines the fact that the essay was not attacking ideological criticism in general, but only certain tendencies that seemed especially prevalent in ideological critiques of abstract ideas. Seeking support for my redundancy, I appealed to a sagacious friend, who promptly urged me to follow Mitchell’s suggestion and drop the “avoidable,” parentheses or no parentheses. I was asking my title to do too much, he observed; the essay itself would make it quite clear that I was undertaking to refine and strengthen the techniques of ideological criticism by urging that its pitfalls be avoided.

      If I had declined to follow this eminently reasonable advice and had retained the word “avoidable,” would that have kept Markley from so radically misconstruing my project? After all, near the end of his rebuttal, he acknowledges that “Kenshur is right … in one respect,” that there is a “lot of not particularly interesting pseudo-Marxist criticism being written” (p. 656). If I had underscored my own sympathy toward and links with the new historicism—something that I could have done in all good conscience—would that have disarmed him? Or if I now undertook, after the fact, to offer assurances that I, like Markley, was working from within the capacious and self-critical Marxist tradition and trying to distinguish its strengths from its weaknesses, would that impel him, like Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella (another launcher of overheated attacks based on misapprehensions), meekly to say, “Never mind”? Perhaps, but somehow I doubt it.

      See also: Elizabeth Helsinger, Clare and the Place of the Peasant Poet

      Oscar Kenshur is associate professor of comparative literature at Indiana University. He is author of Open Form and the Shape of Ideas (1986) and is completing Dilemmas of Enlightenment, a study that traces shifts in the ideological significance of early modern ideas about intellectual method, religious toleration, and female chastity.