Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Spring 1990

Volume 16 Issue 3
    • 475Arnold I. Davidson
    • Pierre Hadot, whose inaugural lecture to the chair of the History of Hellenistic and Roman Through at the Collège de France we are publishing here, is one of the most significant and wide-ranging historians of ancient philosophy writing today. His work, hardly known in the English-reading world except among specialists, exhibits that rare combination of prodigious historical scholarship and rigorous philosophical argumentation that upsets any preconceived distinction between the history of philosophy and philosophy proper. In addition to being the translator and author of monographs on Plotinus, Vitorinus, Porphyry, and many others, Hadot’s most important general philosophical work is entitled Exercises spirituels et philosophie antique.1 Combined with detailed studies of Socrates and Marcus Aurelius, this work presents a history of spiritual exercises from Socrates to early Christianity, an account of their decline in modern philosophy, and a discussion of the different conceptions of philosophy that have companied the trajectory and fate of the theory and practice of spiritual exercises. Hadot’s “Forms of Life and Forms of Discourse in Ancient Philosophy” provides an overview of his major themes and preoccupations, and gives some indication of the historical scope of his work. This lecture also illuminates the methodological problems one faces in studying the history of thought, especially problems concerning the evolution, reinterpretation, and even misunderstanding of the meaning and significance of philosophical terminology. In this brief introduction, I can do no more than attempt to provide a context for Hadot’s inaugural lecture, by way of summary of his major work, and, more specifically for reader’s of Critical Inquiry, to sketch the profound importance that Hadot’s writings had for the last works of Michel Foucault.


      Arnold I. Davidson, executive editor of Critical Inquiry, is associate professor of philosophy and a member of the Committees on the Conceptual Foundations of Science and General Studies in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. He introduced and edited the “Symposium on Heidegger and Nazism” (Critical Inquiry 15 [Winter 1989]). He is currently working on the history of horror as it relates to the epistemology of norms and deviations.

    • 483Pierre Hadot
    • Here we are witness to the great cultural event of the West, the emergence of a Latin philosophical language translated from the Greek. Once again, it would be necessary to make a systematic study of the formation of this technical vocabulary that, thanks to Cicero, Seneca, Tertullian, Victorinus, Calcidius, Augustine, and Boethius, would leave its mark, by way of the Middle Ages, on the birth of modern thought. Can it be hoped that one day, with current technical means, it will be possible to compile a complete lexicon of the correspondences of philosophical terminology in Greek and Latin? Furthermore, lengthy commentaries would be needed, for the most interesting task would be to analyze the shifts in meaning that take place in the movement from one language to another. In the case of the ontological vocabulary the translation of ousia by substantia, for example, is justly famous and has again recently inspired some remarkable studies. This brings us once more to a phenomenon we discretely alluded to earlier with the word philosophia, and which we will encounter throughout the present discussion: the misunderstandings, shifts or losses in meaning, the reinterpretations, sometimes even to the point of misreading, that arise once tradition, translation, and exegesis coexist. So our history of the Hellenistic and Roman thought will consist above all of recognizing and analyzing the evolution of meanings and significance.

      See also: Michel Foucault, Parrēsia

      Pierre Hadot holds the chair of the History of Hellenistic and Roman Thought at the Collège de France. He is the author of many books and articles on the history of ancient philosophy and theology. Among his works are Plotin et la simplicité du regard, Porphyre et Vitctorinus, Marius Victorinus: Recherches sur sa vie et ses oeuvres, and Exercises spirituels et philosophie antique. Arnold I. Davidson, executive editor of Critical Inquiry, is associate professor of philosophy and a member of the Committees on the Conceptual Foundations of Science and General Studies in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. He introduced and edited the “Symposium on Heidegger and Nazism” (Critical Inquiry 15 [Winter 1989]). He is currently working on the history of horror as it relates to the epistemology of norms and deviations. Paula Wissing, a free-lance translator and editor, has recently translated Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant’s The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks (1989). She also contributed translations of articles by Maurice Blanchot, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and Emmanuel Levinas for the “Symposium on Heidegger and Nazism.”

    • 506Mieke Bal
    • In this essay I will explore a mode of reading I call “reading for the text.” A text is what we make of a work when reading it: roughly, a meaningful, well-structured whole with a beginning and an end. But as a mode of reading, textuality allows for constant activity, a continual shaping nd reshaping of sign-events. I will argue that reading for a sense of textuality, and for the wholeness this simple textuality entails, does not necessarily preclude awareness of a fundamental lack of unity, while reading for the effect of the real, in spite of the promotion of the “realistic detail,” tends to do so. The two modes of reading are fundamentally different; yet the conflict between them is not necessarily obvious, nor should such conflict be avoided, ignored, or smoothed out.

      The goal of this confrontation is not to promote textual reading at the expense of realistic reading. It is the conflict between them I wish to promote. The two modes of reading can be brought to bear on the same work, although they are incompatible. As a result, activating both modes is in itself a critical endeavor: their very combination helps one to avoid the unifying fallacy. Textual and realist readings are a problematic and thereby productive combination.

      See also: Mieke Bal, Telling, Showing, Showing off  ·  Mieke Bal, Semiotic Elements in Academic Practices

      Mieke Bal is professor of comparative literature and Susan B. Anthony Professor of women’s studies at the University of Rochester. The author of Death and Dissymmetry: The Politics of Coherence in the Book of Judges (1988), her forthcoming book is Reading “Rembrandt”: Beyond the Word-Image Opposition.

    • 532Daniel Boyarin
    • My construction of the position of the eye in Rabbinic Judaism (and Christianity) represents almost a reversal of the roles “Hebraic” and “Hellenic.” A powerful case can be made that only under Hellenic influence do Jewish cultures exhibit any anxiety about the corporeality of visibility of God; the biblical and Rabbinic religions were quite free of such influences and anxieties. Thus I would identify Greek influences on Judaism in the Middle Ages as being the force for repressing the visual. The Neoplatonic and Airstotelian revision of Judaism undertaken by the Jewish scholastics was so successful that it has resulted in the near-total forgetting of the biblical and Rabbinic traditions of God’s visibility. W. J. T. Mitchell’s characterization of the Rabbinic tradition is a perfect example of this “forgetting.” In order to position Judaism in a typology of cultures, Mitchell cites Moses Maimonides. Mitchell’s reading of Maimonides is well-founded; the problem lies rather in the identification of Maimonides as if he typified the old Rabbinic tradition. In my view, he represents a distinct departure from that tradition. This Platonic departure was indeed marked and condemned as such by many of his contemporaries, but it has become the almost unchallenged orthodoxy of later Judaism as well as of the critical tradition. The memory of having seen God in the Bible and the desire to have that experience again were a vital part of Rabbinic religion. They constituted, moreover, a key element in the study of Torah, the making of midrash.

      See also: Daniel Boyarin, “This We Know to Be the Carnal Israel": Circumcision and the Erotic Life of God and Israel  ·  Murray Krieger, Poetic Presence and Illusion: Renaissance Theory and the Duplicity of Metaphor

      Daniel Boyarin, associate professor of Talmud and midrash at Bar-Ilan University, has published essays on midrash and literary theory. His book Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash is forthcoming. This essay is part of a larger project tentatively entitled Bodies of Torah: Language, Sex and God in Talmudic Judaism.

    • 551Cheryl Walker
    • The issues that Foucault raises about reception and reading are certainly part of the contemporary discussion of literature. However, they are not the only issues with which we, as today’s readers, are concerned. Discussions about the role of the author persist and so we continue to have recourse to the notion of authorship.

      For instance, in her recent book Sexual / Textual Politics (1985), the feminist critic Toril Moi feels called on to return to these twenty-year-old issues in French theory to tell us what it has meant to speak of the author, when she says: “For the patriarchal critic, the author is the source, origin and meaning of the text. If we are to undo this patriarchal practice of authority, we must take one further step and proclaim with Roland Barthes the death of the author.”3

      In the course of this essay I wish to reopen the (never fully closed) question of whether it is advisable to speak of the author, or of what Foucault calls “the author function,” when querying a text, and I wish to reopen it precisely at the site where feminist criticism and post-structuralism are presently engaged in dialogue. Here in particular we might expect that reasons for rejecting author erasure would appear. However, theoretically informed feminist critics have recently found themselves tempted to agree with Barthes, Foucault, and the Edward Said of Beginnings that the authorial presence is best set aside in order to liberate the text for multiple uses.4


      4. See Edward W. Said, Beginnings: Intention and Method (New York, 1975), p. 162.

      See also:  Robert Weimann, Text, Author-Function, and Appropriation in Modern Narrative: Toward a Sociology of Representation  ·  Annette Kolodny, Some Notes on Defining a "Feminist Literary Criticism"

      Cheryl Walker is professor of English and humanities at Scripps College. She is the author of The Nightingale’s Burden: Women Poets and American Culture before 1900 (1982) and Masks Outrageous and Austere: Culture, Psyche, and Persona in Modern Women Poets (forthcoming). She is currently editing an anthology of nineteenth-century women poets and a book of essays about feminist criticism in the wake of post-structuralism.

    • 572Marilynn Desmond
    • In order to recuperate these two representatives of medieval frauenlieder, The Wife’s Lament and Wulf and Eadwacer, a feminist poetics must acknowledge the medieval attitudes toward authority and authorship that allow the medievalist to privilege the voice of the text over the historical author or implied author. The modern concept of authorship, derived from a modern concept of the text as private property, valorizes the signature of the author and the author’s presumed control over and legal responsibility for his or her text. With reference to modern literature, contemporary theory has interrogated this “author-function” quite aggressively in an attempt to pry the text away from the author and to valorize the functions of the reader, as Roland Barthes’s “Death of the Author” illustrates,13 or to reconsider the privileges of the subject, in order to “seize its functions, its interventions in discourse, and its system of dependencies,” as Michel Foucault’s essay “What Is an Author?” propoes.14 Foucault’s proposals concerning the place of the subject and the author-function directly challenge modern assumptions about the text as the property of an author: “We can easily imagine a culture where discourse would circulate without any need for an author. Discourses, whatever their status, form, or value, regardless of our manner of handling them, would unfold in a pervasive anonymity.”15


      13. See Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” Image, Music, Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York, 1977), pp. 142-48.

      14. Michel Foucault, “What Is an Author?” Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon, ed. Bouchard (Ithaca, N.Y., 1977), p. 137.

      15. Ibid., p. 138. Indeed, Foucault does press his argument to the limits of its implications for the subject, and he ends his essay with a question that challenges the voice of a text as well as its author: “‘What Matter who’s speaking?’” (Foucault, “What Is an Author?” p. 138). Nancy K. Miller engages directly in the implications of this position for feminist theory. She states: “What matter who’s speaking? I would answer it matters, for example, to women who have lost and still routinely lose their proper name in marriage, and whose signature—not merely their voice—has not been worth the paper it was written on” (Miller, “The Text’s Heroine: A Feminist Critic and Her Fictions,” Diacritics 12 [Summer 1982]: 53).

      See also: Cheryl Walker, Feminist Literary Criticism and the Author  ·  Elaine Showalter, Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness

      Marilynn Desmond is an assistant professor of English, general literature, and rhetoric at the State University of New York—Binghamton. She is the author of Reading Dido: Textuality and Sexuality in the Late Medieval Reception of Aeneid 4 (forthcoming); her current work is a study of ekphrasis in late medieval literature.

    • 591Vincente L. Rafael
    • To see nationalism as a cultural artifact is to argue against attempts at essentializing it. Anderson claims that nationalism can be better understood as obliquely analogous to such categories as religion and kinship. Membership in a nation draws on the vocabulary of filiation whereby one comes to understand oneself in relation to ancestors long gone and generations yet to be born. In addressing pasts and futures, nationalism resituates identity with reference to death, one’s own as well as others’. Herein lies nationalism’s affective appeal, that which makes it possible to sacrifice oneself for the “motherland.” It lends to the accident of birth the sense of continuity and converts mortality into something that is meant for as much as it is realized by one. By placing one in a certain relationship to death and generativity, nationalist discourse therefore frames the arbitrariness of existence. “It is the magic of nationalism to turn chance into destiny” (IC, p. 19).

      However, while nationalism tends to mine the idioms of kinship and religion, the historical conditions of its emergence undermine the logic and stability of these inherited categories. Thus Anderson defines nations as “imagined communities.” Built on the rubble of traditional polities, the nation invokes a radically secular subjectivity that sets it apart from its predecessors. Dynastic states presumed power and privilege as functions of the purity of bloodlines guaranteed by a divine order. Colonial states as dynastic states in drag replicate the obsession with hierarchy by reorganizing social and epistemological categories according to a metaphysics of race and progress. By contrast, the nation envisions a more egalitarian community. “Regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” (IC, p. 16). It thus reveals the mutability of all sorts of hierarchies. Rather than take power for granted as natural and inherited, nationalism asks about “rights” and thereby opens up the problem of representation: who has the right to speak for whom and under what circumstances?

      See also: Warwick Anderson, Excremental Colonialism: Public Health and the Poetics of Pollution

      Vincente L. Rafael is assistant professor in the department of communication, University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Contracting Colonialism: Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society under Early Spanish Rule (1988).

    • 612Gerald L. Bruns
    • “The Avoidance of Love” is Cavell’s magic looking glass onto Shakespeare, where the idea of missing something, not getting what is obvious, is, on Cavell’s reading, very close to a philosophical obsession. Shakespeare here means—besides LearOthello, Coriolanus, Hamlet, The Winter’s Tale, and Antony and Cleopatra, and what Cavell finds in these plays is an attempt to think through what elsewhere, in the formation of the modern philosophical tradition, was getting formulated as the problem of skepticism, or not being able to know that we know (not being able to be certain). It is not easy to say what this means. As if executing a skeptical decorum, Cavell’s writing does not try for transparency, nor does it always coincide with itself, and anyhow Shakespeare is not so much an object as a region of Cavell’s thinking, so everyday (nonphilosophical) readers are apt to find themselves a bit at sea with him. Without claiming to match Cavell’s views point for point, I would like to give something like a para-Cavellian commentary that tries to say what his thinking, with respect to Shakespeare, seems to be getting at, and also where it leaves us.

      See also: Stanley Cavell, Politics as Opposed to What?  ·  Gerald L. Bruns, Intention, Authority, and Meaning

      Gerald L. Bruns is William and Hazel White Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Notre Dame. His most recent book is Heidegger’s Estrangements: Language, Truth, and Poetry in the Later Writings (1989).

    • 633Richard Rorty
    • McCarthy thinks truth more important than I do. Specifically, he thinks that “ ‘truth’ … functions as an ‘idea of reason’ with respect to which we can criticize not only particular claims within our language but the very standards of truth we have inherited” (p. 369). By contrast, I think that what enables us to make such criticism is concrete alternative suggestions—suggestions about how to redescribe what we are talking about. Some examples are Galileo’s suggestions about how to redescribe the Aristotelian universe, Marx’s suggestions about how to redescribe the nineteenth century, Heidegger’s suggestions about how to redescribe the West as a whole, Dickens’s suggestions about how to redescribe chancery law, Rabelais’s suggestions about how to redescriibe monasteries, and Virginia Woolf’s suggestions about how to redescribe women writing.

      Such fresh descriptions, such new suggestions of things to say, sentences to consider, vocabularies to employ, are what do the work. All that the idea of truth does is to say, “Bethink yourself that you might be mistaken; remember that your beliefs may be justified by your other belies in the area, but that the whole kit and caboodle might be misguided, and in particular that you might be using the wrong words for your purpose.” But this admonition is empty and powerless without some concrete suggestion of an alternative set of beliefs, or of words. Moreover, if you have such a suggestion, you do not need the admonition. The only cash value of this regulative idea is to commend fallibilism, to remind us that lots of people have been as certain of, and as justified in believing, things that turned out to be false as we are certain of, and justified in holding, our present views. It is not, as McCarthy says, a “moment of unconditionality that opens us up to criticism from other points of view” (p. 370). It is the particular attractions of those other points of view.


      Richard Rorty is University Professor of Humanities at the University of Virginia. His most recent book is Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989).

    • 644Thomas McCarthy
    • I find myself in the odd position of trying to convince someone who had done as much as anyone to bring philosophy into the wider culture that he is wrong to urge now that its practice be consigned to the esoteric pursuits of “private ironists.” The problem, I still believe, is Richard Rorty’s all-or-nothing approach to philosophy (“Truth and Freedom: A Reply to Thomas McCarthy,” pp. 633-43): foundationalism or ironism; and this, I think, is encouraged by his selective reading of philosophy’s history. On that reading, modern philosophy “centered around a discussion of truth” (p. 634); it was preoccupied with foundationalist claims of one sort or another. But that preoccupation was permanently discredited by Friedrich Nietzsche and his descendants, especially Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida, leaving philosophy with nothing to do but pick the bones of its own carcass. What is missing from this story is precisely the line of thought—extending from the left Hegelians to Jürgen Habermas—I sought to develop in my paper. That line is defined by, among other things, the primacy of practical reason and the rerouting of philosophical inquiry in sociohistorical directions. One of its high points is American pragmatism, which, pace Rorty, does not lie along the Nietzsche—Heidegger—Derrida line.


      Thomas McCarthy is professor of philosophy at Northwestern University. He is the author of The Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas (1978) and editor of the series Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought. His work-in-progress concerns the relation of philosophy to social theory.

    • 656Robert Lecker
    • It is startling to realize that Canadian literature was canonized in fewer than twenty years. Here is how it happened.

      At the end of World War II, Canadian literature was not taught as an independent subject in Canadian schools. There was no canon. In 1957, the publishing firm McClelland and Stewart introduced its mass-market paperback reprint series entitled the New Canadian Library. It allowed teachers to discuss the work of many Canadian authors who had never been the subject of formal academic study. This New Canadian Library was truly “new”: prior to its conception, there was no “library” in use. There were no Canadian classics. Northrop Frye recalls that at that time the notion of finding a classic Canadian writer remained but “a gleam in a paternal critic’s eye.”1

      Frye’s comment must be placed in context: he was remembering the efforts that produced the first Literary History of Canada in 1965. In T. D. MacLulich’s words, its publication “gave a definitive imprimatur of respectability to the academic study of Canadian writing.”2 It made a Canadian canon seem possible; to many, it made the canon seem real. With the advent of this history, the institution called Canadian literature was born.3


      1. Northrop Frye, “Conclusion,” in Literary History of Canada: Canadian Literature in English, 2d ed., ed. Carl F. Klinck et al., 3 vols. (Toronto, 1976), 3:319.

      2. T. D. MacLulich, “What Was Canadian Literature? Taking Stock of the Canlit Industry,” Essays on Canadian Writing 30 (Winter 1984-85): 19; hereafter abbreviated “WWCL.”

      3. My use of the term “Canadian literature” applies to English-Canadian literature; the canonization of French-Canadian, or Québecois literature, invokes another story and another set of political imperatives that cannot be adequately treated within the scope of this discussion.

      4. John Guillory, “Canonical and Non-Canonical: A Critique of the Current Debate,” ELH 54 (Fall 1987): 483.


      Robert Lecker is professor of English at McGill University. He is the author of several critical studies, including On the Line (1982), Robert Kroetsch (1986), and An Other I (1988), and coeditor of Essays on Canadian Writing, the multi-volume Canadian Writers and Their Works (1983— ), and the eight-volume Annotated Bibliography of Canada’s Major Authors (1979— ). Lecker is currently preparing a collection of essays on the Canadian canon.

    • 672Frank Davey
    • Although canon-formation is, as Lecker suggests, a product of rhetoric and textual choices of critics, it is also a product of economic forces, political conflicts, and cultural expectations of coherence, “order,” and unitary explanation. Conditioned by some or all of these, an essay ostensibly skeptical of canons, as this one appears to be, can find itself nevertheless contributing to the thing it questions. In attempting to attribute the formation of a single national canon to a specific period (“since 1965” [p. 657]), to a specific and allegedly homogeneous group of actors (“Canadian academic critics” [p. 661]), and to a specific social phenomenon (the teaching of Canadian literature “as an independent subject in Canadian schools” [p. 656]), Lecker’s essay becomes another constructor of canonical text and theory. Behind its arguments that a canon suddenly came into being are fairly precise assumptions not only about “Canadian critics” (p. 657) but also about what constitutes canonicity, and about the relative legitimacy of canonicity claims. “At the end of World War II, Canadian literature was not taught as an independent subject in Canadian schools. There was no canon,” his essay begins (p. 656). Is a school curriculum the only possible context for the attainment of literary “legitimacy”? Can there be no canon if a literature has no curriculum, education publishers, or “academic critics,” or if it has not been institutionalized as an “independent” subject?


      Frank Davey, chair of the department of English at York University, is the author of From There to Here: A Guide to English Canadian Literature Since 1960 (1974), Surviving the Paraphrase (1983), Margaret Atwood: A Feminist Poetics (1984), and Reading Canadian Reading (1988). He is also the editor of Open Letter and the on-line magazine Swiftcurrent. He is currently working on a study of nationalist ideologies in Canadian fiction entitled National Arguments.

    • 682Robert Lecker
    • I know that my view offends those who would prefer a noncentrist, or antifederalist, notion of Canadian literature. Davey has repeatedly expressed such a preference in his own criticism. It similarly offends those who believe that new critical voices are beginning to change our perceptions of the canon. I recognize these voices and grant that they may eventually alter our values. So far, very little has changed. It is this assertion that troubles Davey and prompts his central objection: my concept of the canon is unitary, centralist, conservative, monolithic, distorted, and misleading. It is all of these, insofar as it represents my attempt to describe the concept as it has been transmitted in works of Canadian criticism that promote the idea of coherence by arguing the validity of tradition, influence, pattern, or literary solidarity among authors in different eras. Such criticism imagines a unified view of Canadian literature as the reflection of a unified country. It projects a dream of what Northrop Frye called “the peaceable kingdom.”1 In my essay, I emphasize the fictiveness of this dream. Yet this is the fiction that seems to have inspired most Canadian criticism. Although Davey might object to the expression of this dream, the objection doesn’t come to terms with my assertion that the dream of national unity remains the driving force behind the literary and critical values we seek out and support. This force is not rational or empirical, as Davey would have us believe. It is a matter of faith. We create the canon in order to embody a vision of something larger we want to sustain.


      Robert Lecker is professor of English at McGill University. He is the author of several critical studies, including On the Line (1982), Robert Kroetsch (1986), and An Other I (1988), and coeditor of Essays on Canadian Writing, the multi-volume Canadian Writers and Their Works (1983— ), and the eight-volume Annotated Bibliography of Canada’s Major Authors (1979— ). Lecker is currently preparing a collection of essays on the Canadian canon.