Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Spring 1991

Volume 17 Issue 3
    • 457Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
    • One of the signal developments in contemporary criticism over the past several years has been the ascendancy of the colonial paradigm. In conjunction with this new turn, Frantz Fanon has now been reinstated as a global theorist, and not simply by those engaged in Third World or subaltern studies. In a recent collection centered on British romanticism, Jerome McGann opens a discussion of William Blake and Ezra Pound with an extended invocation of Fanon. Donald Pease has used Fanon to open an attack on Stephen Greenblatt’s reading of the Henriad and the interdisciplinary practices of the new historicism. And Fanon, and published interpretations of Fanon, have become regularly cited in the rereading of the Renaissance that have emerged from places like Sussex, Essex, and Birmingham.1

      My intent is not to offer a reading of Fanon to supplant these others, but to read, even if summarily, some of these readings of Fanon. By focusing on successive appropriations of this figure, as both totem and text, I think we can chart out an itinerary through contemporary colonial discourse theory. I want to stress, then, that my ambitions here are extremely limited: what follows may be a prelude to a reading of Fanon, but does not even begin that task itself.2

      · 1. See Jerome McGann, “The Third World of Criticism,” in Rethinking Historicism: Critical Readings in Romantic History, ed. Marjorie Levinson et al. (New York, 1989), pp. 85-107, and Donald Pease, “Toward a Sociology of Literary Knowledge: Greenblatt, Colonialism, and the New Historicism,” in Consequences of Theory, ed. Barbara Johnson and Jonathan Arac (Baltimore, 1991).

      · 2. A properly contextualized reading of Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, the text to which I most frequently recur, should situate it in respect to such germinal works as Jean-Paul Sartre’s Réflexions sur la question Juive (Paris, 1946), Dominique O. Mannoni’s Psychologie de la colonisation (Paris, 1950), Germaine Guex’s La Névrose d’abandon (Paris, 1950), as well as many lesser known works. But this is only to begin to sketch out the challenge of rehistoricizing Fanon.

      See also: Henry Louis Gates Jr., Frederick Douglass's Camera Obscura: Representing the Antislave “Clothed and in Their Own Form”  ·  Françoise Vergès, Creole Skin, Black Mask: Fanon and Disavowal  ·  Ross Posnock, How It Feels to Be a Problem: Du Bois, Fanon, and the "Impossible Life" of the Black Intellectual

      Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is coeditor of Transition, a quarterly review, and the author of Figures in Black (1987) and The Signifying Monkey (1988), which received an American Book Award.

    • 471Gilles Deleuze
    • Perhaps the question “What is philosophy?” can only be posed late in life, when old age has come, and with it the time to speak in concrete terms. It is a question one poses when one no longer has anything to ask for, but its consequences can be considerable. One was asking the question before, one never ceased asking it, but it was too artificial, too abstract; one expounded and dominated the question, more than being grabbed by it. There are cases in which old age bestows not an eternal youth, but on the contrary a sovereign freedom, a pure necessity where one enjoys a moment of grace between life and death, and where all the parts of the machine combine to dispatch into the future a trait that traverses the ages: Turner, Monet, Matisse. The elderly Turner acquired or conquered the right to lead painting down a deserted path from which there was no return, and that was no longer distinguishable from a final question. In the same way, in philosophy, Kant’s Critique of Judgment is a work of old age, a wild work from which descendants will never cease to flow.

      We cannot lay claim to such a status. The time has simply come for us to ask what philosophy is. And we have never ceased to do this in the past, and we already had the response, which has not varied: philosophy is the art of forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts. But it was not only necessary for the response to take note of the question; it also had to determine a time, an occasion, the circumstances, the landscapes and personae, the conditions and unknowns of the question. One had to be able to pose the question “between friends” as a confidence or a trust, or else, faced with an enemy, as a challenge, and at the same time one had to reach that moment, between dog and wolf, when one mistrusts even the friend.

      See also: Gilles Deleuze, Literature and Life

      Gilles Deleuze was professor of philosophy at the University of Paris VIII, Vincennes-St.-Denis, until his retirement in 1987. Among his books translated into English are the two-volume Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Anti-Oedipus [1983] and A Thousand Plateaus [1987]), the two-volume Cinema (The Movement-Image [1986] and The Time-Image [1989]), The Logic of Sense (1990), and Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (1990). Daniel W. Smith is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Chicago. He is at work on a study of the philosophy of Deleuze, and is translating Deleuze’s Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Arnold I. Davidson, executive editor of Critical Inquiry, teaches philosophy at the University of Chicago and is currently Marta Sutton Weeks Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center.

    • 479David Saunders and Ian Hunter
    • Authorship has proven a magnetic topic for literary studies and is now identified as an index of the current state of literary history and theory. The significance of this topic stems from a characteristic that literary criticism shared with the other human sciences: its drive to adopt a reflexive and self-critical posture towards its own central objects and concepts. By reflecting on authorship, criticism aspires not just to describe a literary phenomenon; it also wishes to bring to light the conditions that make this phenomenon possible and thinkable.

      At the heart of recent studies of authorship, no matter how historical their aspiration, we find a certain quasi-philosophical dialectic or play between authorship and its material conditions, between the author as an exemplary consciousness and the unconscious determinations that bring this consciousness into being and speak through it. The thematic name for this play is the ‘formation of the subject.’. Our purpose is to provide a historical and theoretical argument against this conception of authorship and to outline an alternative approach.

      See also: Ian Hunter, The History of Theory

      David Saunders and Ian Hunter teach in the Division of the Humanities, Griffith University, in Brisbane, Australia. Saunders is the author of Law and Authorship (forthcoming), and is coauthor with Hunter and Dugald Williamson of Book Sex: Obscenity Law and the Policing of Pornography (also forthcoming). Hunter is the author of Culture and Government: The Emergence of Literary Education (1988). His current project is a study of aesthetics as an ethos or way of life.

    • 510Brook Thomas
    • At a key moment in the 1988 presidential debates, Michael Dukakis claimed that the issue in the campaign was not ideology but competency. A major reason for Bush’s victory was that Dukakis was most competent at creating the illusion that even George Bush was competent. Even so, a useful way to begin some reflections on the law and literature revival is to note that even a hardened political pragmatist like Bush felt that it was in his political interest to declare that the issue was indeed ideology. Bush’s insistence on the importance of ideology is noteworthy for those interested in the humanities because it seems to much at odds with the conservative position in current cultural politics. Ideology might be the issue in political campaigns, but for the conservatives it has no role in the humanities, which properly understood are the repository of essential human values. As contradictory as this position might seem, it is actually quite consistent. The ideological function of government is to impart to its citizens the proper values, values that find expression in great humanistic documents. To turn the role of the humanities from that of guarding and defending these sacred documents to that of demystifying them as ideological products is to undermine the possibility of government performing its proper ideological function. Radicals in the current wars over culture thus stand accused of subverting the fundamental values that the country represents.

      See also: Brook Thomas, The Legal Fictions of Herman Melville and Lemuel Shaw

      Brook Thomas is professor of English at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Cross-Examinations of Law and Literature; Cooper, Hawthorne, Stowe, and Melville (1987) and The New Historicism and Other Old-Fashioned Topics (forthcoming).

    • 540Barbara Hoffman
    • Contemporary public art is still in the process of defining its artistic and legal identity. Indeed to juxtapose the terms public and art is a paradox. Art is often said to be the individual inquiry of the sculptor or painter, the epitome of self-expression and vision that may challenge conventional wisdom and values. The term public encompasses a reference to the community, the social order, self-negation: hence the paradox of linking the private and the public in a single concept. A goal of any general or jurisprudential theory concerning government sponsorship or ownership of art in the public context must reconcile, through state institutions and law, this tension between art’s subjectivity with hits potential for controversy and government’s need to promote the public good.

      This essay critically examines and discusses existing contemporary legal doctrine and its failure to accommodate or even adequately define the issues and competing values at stake in the public art context. Such failure may be attributed in part to the fact that neither legal theory nor art policy have been inspired by the vision of or located in the broader context of a sociopolitical public realm.

      See also: Michael North, The Public as Sculpture: From Heavenly City to Mass Ornament

      Barbara Hoffman practices arts and entertainment law in New York and is counsel to the College Art Association. She is a former professor of constitutional law at the University of Puget Sound, and she has served as chair of the Public Art Committee of the Art Law Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, and president of the Washington Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.

    • 574Richard Serra
    • In the United States, property rights are afforded protection, but moral rights are not. Up until 1989, the United States adamantly refused to join the Berne Copyright Convention, the first multilateral copyright treaty, now ratified by seventy-eight countries. The American government refused to comply because the Berne Convention grants moral rights to authors. This international policy was—and is—incompatible with United States copyright law, which recognizes only economic rights. Although ten states have enacted some form of moral rights legislation, federal copyright laws tend to prevail, and those are still wholly economic in their motivation. Indeed, the recent pressure for the United States to agree, at least in part, to the terms of the Berne Convention came only as a result of a dramatic increase in the international piracy of American records and films.

      In September 1986, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts first introduced a bill called the Visual Artists Rights Act. This bill attempts to amend federal copyright laws to incorporate some aspects of international moral rights protection. The Kennedy bill would prohibit the intentional distortion, mutilation, or destruction of works of art after they have been sold. Moreover, the act would empower artists to claim authorship, to receive royalties on subsequent sales, and to disclaim their authorship if the work were distorted.4 This legislation would have prevented Clement Greenburg and the other executors of David Smith’s estate from authorizing the stripping of paint from Several of Smith’s later sculptures so that they would resemble his earlier—and more marketable—unpainted sculptures. Such moral rights legislations would have prevented a Japanese bank in New York from removing and destroying a sculpture by Isamu Noguchi simply because the bank president did not like it. And such legislation would have prevented the United States government from destroying Tilted Arc.

      · 4. Although this section appeared in the original version of Kennedy’s bill, the current version provides for a study of resale royalties.

      See also: Terry Smith, Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity

      Richard Serra is known for his large-scale site-specific works in landscapes, urban environments, and museums.

    • 582Jerome Christensen
    • [W. J. T.] Mitchell focuses on the exemplary status of the Wall of Fame in Sal’s Pizzeria, “an array of signed publicity photos of Italian-American stars in sports, movies, and popular music” (p. 892). He argues that the Wall “exemplifies the central contradictions of public art” (p. 893). “The Wall,” he writes, “is important to Sal not just because it displays famous Italians but because they are famous Americans … who have made it possible for Italians to think of themselves as Americans, full-fledged members of the general public sphere” (p. 894). For Buggin’ Out, the young black customer who angrily objects to the absence of photos of black people, the Wall “signifies exclusion from the public sphere” (p. 894). Although the streets are saturated with images of “African-American heroes,” those “tokens of self-respect” are not enough for Buggin’ Out, who wants “the respect of whites, the acknowledgment that African-Americans are hyphenated Americans, too, just like Italians” (p. 894). Mitchell astutely interprets the desired integration of the Wall as merely a symptom of a larger struggle for “full economic participation. As long as blacks do not own private property in this society,” he states, “they remain in something like the status of public art, mere ornaments to the public place, entertaining statues and abstract caricatures rather than full human beings” (p. 895). By foregrounding the economic implications of the film, Mitchell has surely engaged one of the dominant goals of the man who formed Forty Acres and a Mule Productions and who recently opened the store called Spike’s Joint in New York City. Yet Mitchell’s sympathetic account belies the countercurrents that trouble the ostensible progressiveness of Spike Lee’s ambitious art.

      See also: Jerome Christensen, “Like a Guilty Thing Surprised": Deconstruction, Coleridge, and the Apostasy of Criticism  ·  Jerome Christensen, From Rhetoric to Corporate Populism: A Romantic Critique of the Academy in an Age of High Gossip

      Jerome Christensen teaches in the English department at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of books on Coleridge and Hume and one forthcoming on Byron. Currently, he is completing a study of the continued pertinence of the romantic turn of mind called Romantic Theory, Romantic Practice.

    • 596W. J. T. Mitchell
    • I might as well say at the outset that, although I can return Christensen’s compliment, and call his response “thoughtful,” I am most interested in those places where the fullness of his thought, and particularly of his own language, has paralyzed his thought in compulsively repetitious patterns, and led him into interpretive maneuvers (the reduction of the film to a single “message”; the equation of this message with the views of particular characters in the film) that he would surely be skeptical about in the reading of a literary text. Even more interesting is the way Christensen’s antipathy to the film, and the violence of the language in which eh expresses the antipathy, has prevented him from registering the plainest sensory and perceptual elements of the film text. In a rather straightforward and literal sense, Christensen has neither seen nor heard Do the Right Thing, but has screened a fantasy film of his own projection. To say Christensen has projected a fantasy, however, is not to say that his response is eccentric or merely private. On the contrary, it is a shared and shareable response, a reflex in the public imaginary of American culture at the present time. As such, it deserves patient and detailed examination.

      See also: W. J. T. Mitchell, The Violence of Public Art: "Do the Right Thing"

      W. J. T. Mithcell, editor of Critical Inquiry, is Gaylord Donnelly Distinguished Service Professor of English and art at the University of Chicago. His most recent book is Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (1986).

    • 609Jonathan Crewe
    • Years ago, before Arnoldian poetic touchstones had become quite as unpopular as they are now, I and my fellow college undergraduates found a touchstone of sorts in a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. The cherished line read:

      Plato alone looked upon beauty bare.

      For us, this line became the touchstone, not of poetic sublimity but of being poetic, which is to say of attaining a consummate inane pretentiousness in poetic diction and intellectual attitude alike. Millay, we thought, had done it once and for all.

      Today, of course, nobody has any use for touchstones, and if we erstwhile undergraduates were to reread Millay we might well come away feeling ashamed of our former arrogance, juvenile conceit, and no doubt sexism. Still, Millay’s line has a memorably vacuous, oracular ring to it. That is the ring I keep hearing in Gerald Bruns’s “Stanley Cavell’s Shakespeare” (Critical Inquiry 16 [Spring 1990]: 612-32). “Cavell … alone perhaps with Martin Heidegger, has a sense of what is at stake in this quarrel [between philosophy and poetry]” (p. 612). “Exposure to reality is what happens in Hamlet, although it occurs nowhere (anywhere, in any literature) so powerfully as in Lear” (p. 615). “This was the later Heidegger’s idea: poetry … puts everything out of the question” (p. 615). “The face, like the world (as the world), requires me to forego knowing” (p. 620). “Proving the existence of the human proved to be a separate problem that did not get clearly formulated until Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and E. T. A. Hoffmann’s ‘The Sandman’” (p. 614). Philosophers and cultural historians may make what they will of these vatic disclosures, but it may strike those who study Shakespeare that Bruns is recycling lugubrious clichés (of the type currently favored by the National Endowment for the Humanities) about Hamlet and Lear while simultaneously upping the philosophical ante for them. This, however, is roughly the procedure that Bruns wants to pass off as Cavell’s.

      Jonathan Crewe, professor of English at Dartmouth College, is the author of Trials of Authorship: Anterior Forms and Poetic Reconstruction from Wyatt to Shakespeare (1990).

    • 616James Conant
    • Gerald Bruns’s “Stanley Cavell’s Shakespeare” (Critical Inquiry 16 [Spring 1990]:612-32) is a consistently sympathetic and thoughtful response to Cavell’s difficult essays on Shakespeare.1 Nevertheless, while Bruns’s exposition of Cavell’s thought places it in a pertinently complex region of philosophical and literary concerns, it is hampered by its relative isolation from much of Cavell’s other work and from certain abiding conflicts within contemporary philosophy which inform that work. The resultant misunderstandings of Cavell’s thought are perhaps as inevitable as they are widespread—a function of the way in which the modern American university carves up and compartmentalizes the world of humanistic learning—and are on the verge of becoming entrenched among commentators on his work. Much of Cavell’s work has been concerned (as has Bruns’s, I gather) to resist some of the costs of this process of compartmentalization or professionalization. The problems this resistance poses for the reception of the work are perhaps nowhere more pervasive than in the case of Cavell’s collection of essays on Shakespeare, Disowning Knowledge in Six Plays of Shakespeare, in part because of Cavell’s sense of the figure of Shakespeare, of what this corpus of writing represents. In light of, and in appreciation of, Bruns’s serious and resourceful effort to get Cavell’s thought on these matters straight, it is worth trying to get it clearer.

      See also: 

      James Conant, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, is currently a fellow at the Michigan Society of Fellows. His “Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein and Nonsense” is included in Pursuits of Reason: Essays in Honor of Stanley Cavell (1991).

    • 635Gerald L. Bruns
    • I am impressed by how angry Jonathan Crewe is, but I found his remarks confused and unclear and so I’m uncertain how to reply. Whatever the matter it, he wants “to forestall a sense of academic obligation on anyone’s part (for example, on the part of students) to work back to Cavell through Bruns” (p. 612). God knows this might be a good idea, judging from what James Conant says.

      Conant’s criticisms are directed at the section of my paper called “The Moral of Skepticism,” which he cannot help wanting to rewrite, since he has a much more intimate grasp of Cavell’s thinking than I have. I imagined myself on the outside of Cavell’s texts, trying to characterize them in a certain way, not on the inside, giving an account of their genesis. Obviously my paper is neither philosophy nor literary criticism but a crossdressing of the two that is bound to make someone like Crewe bite his teeth. I appreciate Conant’s forbearance.

      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).

    • 639Toril Moi
    • I must confess that I found [Calvin] Bedient’s account of Kristeva’s theories quite shocking. Since, on the whole, critical essays rarely upset me, my own reaction was quite puzzling to me. What is there in Bedient’s prose to unsettle me so? It certainly can’t be his style or tone: he has produced a perfectly even-tempered essay. Refraining from imputing selfish or dishonest motives to the theorist he wants to disagree with, Bedient never argues ad feminam, and takes much trouble lucidly to explain why he disagrees with Kristeva. There is every reason to commend him for his honest style of argumentation. There can be no doubt that his essay is produced purely by his concern to take issue with a theory he truly believes to be incapable of accounting for the way in which poetry—and particularly modern poetry—actually works.

      What causes my unease must therefore be something else. It may of course be the fact that Bedient’s account of Kristeva’s theory of language in Revolution of Poetic Language is wrong. His is not a somewhat skewed, or slanted, or one-sided presentation of her views, but—as far as I can see—a total misreading. Briefly put, Bedient’s mistake consists in taking Kristeva’s account of the sentence process in language for a complete theory of poetic language. He does not seem to have noticed Kristeva’s account of the symbolic, her repeated insistence that language—the signifying process—is the product of a dialectical interaction between the symbolic and the semiotic, or even her definition of the “thetic.”

      Toril Moi, professor of comparative literature at the University of Bergen and professor (adjunct) at Duke University, is the editor of The Kristeva Reader (1986) and the author of Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (1985). Her most recent book is Feminist Theory and Simone de Beauvoir (1990).

    • 644Calvin Bedient
    • [Toril] Moi says that my misunderstanding of Kristeva lies in taking the “semiotic process” (more specifically, what Kristeva calls “the drives borne by vocalic or kinetic differences”)1 for the whole of “poetic language”: “He does not seem to have noticed Kristeva’s account of the symbolic, her repeated insistence that language—the signifying process—is the product of a dialectical interaction between the symbolic and the semiotic” (p. 639). But how could I not notice what Kristeva herself reiterates over and over? Not notice that “textual practice is that most intense struggle toward death, which runs alongside and is inseparable from the differentiated binding of its charge in a symbolic texture”—words I quoted on page 814 (emphasis added)? The reader will find in my essay many other statements (both mine and Kristeva’s) to the same effect. I noticed, I noticed, but Moi did not notice I noticed. She’s so certain Kristeva’s book is difficult that she may underestimate the ability of others to grasp its essential points. But despite the pine-knot paroxysms of grotesqueness in the Englished version (samples of which so repulsed the editor who commissioned the essay that he rejected it), Kristeva makes herself understood well enough through her sharp logicality and by dint of repetition.

      Calvin Bedient is professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. His most recent book is He Do the Police in Different Voices (1986), a study of The Waste Land.

    • 650Heinz Ickstadt
    • The last kilometers of the Berlin Wall were finally torn down during this last week before Christmas, but mentally, socially, economically it continues to exist, and for some in what used to be East Berlin (and I am not even thinking of hard-liners and former party members) it isn’t so clear anymore whether the actual wall made of concrete wasn’t easier to bear. To be sure, the wall that once separated the largest cities in each of the two Germanys is still present as a scar of empty space; but distances have shrunk, and old views of the city have been reestablished—at least geographically, Berlin, no doubt, is slowly becoming one again. However, the social and economic differences as well as the mental walls erected in forty years of separate existence still divide the eastern from the western part. Now that the euphoria of unification has finally subsided, gains and losses are being counted, and many East Germans are beginning to ask themselves whether the price they paid for political freedom was not too high after all. The moral and economic bankruptcy of the old regime daily becomes more apparent: its structures of corruption and repression, its system of total surveillance that had become a part of everyday life and made use of even those whom the state had marginalized. And yet that system, corrupt as it was, had also provided a measure of stability, a predictable life that, although it had restricted individual choice, can now evoke nostalgic memories of warmth and security.

      Heinz Ickstadt is professor of American literature at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies at the Free University in Berlin. He has written and edited books on Hart Crane, Thomas Pynchon, and the 1930s, and has published widely on American literature and culture in the late nineteenth century, American modernism, postmodern fiction, and on the relation of literature and painting. A book on the changing functions of the American novel, coauthored with Winfried Fluck, is forthcoming.