Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Spring 1992

Volume 18 Issue 3
    • 417Michael Rogin
    • Birth and The Jazz Singer ostensibly exploit blacks in opposite ways. Birth makes war on blacks in the name of the fathers; The Jazz Singer’s protagonist adopts a black mask and kills his father. The Birth of a Nation, climaxing the worst period of violence against blacks in southern history, lynches the black; the jazz singer, ventriloquizing the black, sings through his mouth. Birth, a product of the progressive movement, has national political purpose. The Jazz Singer, marking the retreat from public to private life in the jazz age, and the perceived pacification of the fantasized southern black threat, celebrates not political regeneration but urban entertainment. [ … ]

      Celebrating the blackface identification that Birth of a Nation denies, The Jazz Singer does no favor to blacks. The blackface jazz singer is neither a jazz singer nor black. Blackface marries ancient rivals in both movies; black and white marry in neither. Just as Birth offers a regeneration through violence, so the grinning, Jazz Singer, minstrelsy mask kills blacks with kindness.

      See also: Michael Rogin, The Great Mother Domesticated: Sexual Difference and Sexual Indifference in D. W. Griffith's "Intolerance"  ·  Jeffrey Knapp, Sacred Songs Popular Prices”: Secularization in The Jazz Singer

      Michael Rogin teaches political science at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian (1975), Subversive Genealogy: The Politics and Art of Herman Melville (1983), “Ronald Reagan,” the Movie and Other Episodes in Political Demonology (1987).

    • 454Jerome J. McGann
    • Can poetry tell the truth? This question has embarrassed and challenged writers for a long time. While the question may be addressed at both an ethical and an epistemological level, its resonance is strongest when the ethico-political issues become paramount—as they were for both Socrates and Plato.

      Today the question appears most pressing not among poets but among their custodians, the critics and academicians.1 Whether or not poetry can tell the truth—whether or not it can establish an identity between thought and its object—has become an acute problem for those who are asked to bring critical judgment to the matter. To the extent that a consensus has been reached, the judgment has been negative. That poetry develops only a metaphorical and nonidentical relation between thought and its object is the current general view.

      · 1. This crisis has been widely debated; my own contribution to the discussion may be found in Social Values and Poetics Acts: The Historical Judgment of Literary Work (Cambridge, Mass., 1988). The critique of Plato in the early sections of this work is particularly relevant to the question of poetry’s truth-functions. The same subject is pursued further in the sequel, Toward a Literature of Knowledge (Chicago, 1989).

      See also: Jerome J. McGann, The Religious Poetry of Christina Rossetti  ·  Jerome J. McGann, Contemporary Poetry, Alternate Routes

      Jerome J. McGann is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia. The Textual Condition (1991) is his most recent critical work, and he is the editor of the New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse (forthcoming).

    • 474Daniel Boyarin
    • When Augustine condemns the Jews to eternal carnality, he draws a direct connection between anthropology and hermeneutics. Because the Jews reject reading “in the spirit,” they are therefore condemned to remain “Israel in the flesh.” Allegory is thus, in his theory, a mode of relating to the body. In another part of the Christian world, Origen also described the failure of the Jews as owing to a literalist hermeneutic, one that is unwilling to go beyond or behind the material language and discover its immaterial spirit.1 This way of thinking about language has been initially stimulated in the Fathers by Paul’s usage of “in the flesh” and “in the spirit” respectively to mean literal and figurative. Romans 7:5-6 is a powerful example of this hermeneutic structure: “For when we were still in the flesh, our sinful passions, stirred up by the law, were at work on our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are fully freed from the law, dead to that in which we lay captive. We can thus serve in the new being of the Spirit and not the old one of the letter.” In fact, the exact same metaphor is used independently of Paul by Philo, who writes that his interest is in “the hidden and inward meaning which appeals to the few who study soul characteristics rather than bodily forms.”2 For both, hermeneutics becomes anthropology.

      · 1. See Henri Crouzel, Origen, trans. A. S. Worrall (San Francisco, 1989), pp. 107-12.

      · 2. Philo, On Abraham, sec. 147, in vol. 6 of Philo, trans. and ed. F. H. Colson (Cambridge, Mass., 1935), p. 75. It is very important to note that Philo himself is just the most visible representative of an entire school of people who understood the Bible, and indeed the philosophy of language, as he did. On this see David Winston, “Philo and the Contemplative Life,” in Jewish Spirituality: From the Bible through the Middle Ages, ed. Arthur Green (New York, 1986-87), pp. 198-231, esp. p. 211.

      See also: Daniel Boyarin, The Eye in the Torah: Ocular Desire in Midrashic Hermeneutic  ·   Daniel Boyarin, Patron Saint of the Incongruous: Rabbi Me'ir, the Talmud, and Menippean Satire

      Daniel Boyarin is Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture in the department of Near-Eastern studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash (1990), as well as the forthcoming Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture, from which the present essay is drawn. He is currently engaged in a project entitled The Politics of the Spirit: Paul as a Jewish Cultural Critic.

    • 506Warwick Anderson
    • My concern here is with the way a new American medical discourse in the Philippines fabricated and rationalized images of the bodies of the colonized and the subordinate colonizers. I am interested in reading the reports of biological (and in particular, physiological) experiments as discursive constructions of the American colonial project, as attempts to naturalize the power of foreign bodies to appropriate and command the Islands. The origin of the American colonial enterprise at a time when science lent novel force and legitimacy to public policy gave scientists and doctors an opportunity to construct a new physiology and pathology of colonialism. The medical laboratory thus became an important site for the construction of the social space of interaction between American and Filipino bodies.5 The Filipino emerged in this period as a potentially dangerous part of the zoological realm, while the American colonizer became a resilient racial type, no longer inevitably susceptible to the tropical climate but vulnerable to the crowd of invisible, alien parasites newly associated with native bodies. This new medical discourse in the tropics accorded with a broad shift in the language and practices of medical science that occurred at the end of the nineteenth century. Generally, the medical concern with constitutions and climate gave way to a greater interest in the specific microbial causation of individual disease. At the same time, the colonial doctor’s anecdotes and clinical impressions seemed less convincing, and increasingly the laboratory was called on to authenticate knowledge.

      See also: Warwick Anderson, Excremental Colonialism: Public Health and the Poetics of Pollution  ·  Homi K. Bhabha, Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority under a Tree outside Delhi, May 1817  ·  Mary Louise Pratt, Scratches on the Face of the Country; Or, What Mr. Barrow Saw in the Land of the Bushmen

      Warwick Anderson is a medical doctor who is completing his doctorate in the history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania. His current project is the politics of disease theory in southeastern Asia.

    • 530Chicago Cultural Studies Group
    • We would like to open some questions here about the institutional and cultural conditions of anything that might be called cultural studies or multiculturalism. By introducing cultural studies and multiculturalism many intellectuals aim at a more democratic culture. We share this aim. In this essay, however, we would like to argue that the projects of cultural studies and multiculturalism require: (a) a more international model of cultural studies than the dominant Anglo-American versions; (b) renewed attention to the institutional environments of cultural studies; and (c) a questioning of the relations between multiculturalism and identity politics. We seek less to “fix” these problems than to provide a critical analysis of the languages, the methods of criticism, and the assumptions about identity, culture, and politics that present the problems to us. Because the thickets entangling what our group calls cultural studies are so deeply rooted in Western academia, which to a large degree constitutes our own group, the counterexample of cultural criticism in other contexts can be more than usually instructive. We begin by considering the position of cultural studies in China, since our group includes a number of Chinese intellectuals, on whose experience the following section is largely based.

      See also: Michael Geyer, Multiculturalism and the Politics of General Education  ·  Vito Acconci, Public Space in a Private Time

      The Chicago Cultural Studies Group began meeting in June 1990. It includes Lauren Berlant, David Bunn, Vinay Dharwadker, Norma Field, Dilip Gaonkar, Marilyn Ivy, Benjamin Lee, Leo Ou-fan Lee, Xinmin Liu, Mathew Roberts, Sharon Stephens, Katie Trumpener, Greg Urban, Michael Warner, Jianyang Zha, and Jueliang Zhou.

    • 556Mieke Bal
    • The American Museum of Natural History is monumental not only in its architecture and design but also in its size, scope, and content. This monumental quality suggests in and of itself the primary meaning of the museum inherited from its history: comprehensive collecting as a form of domination.8 In this respect museums belong to an era of scientific and colonial ambition, from the Renaissance through the early twentieth century, with its climactic moment in the second half of the nineteenth century. It belongs in the category of nineteenth-century endeavors such as experimental medicine (I’m thinking here of Claude Bernard), evolutionary biology (Charles Darwin), and the naturalistic novel (Émile Zola), all of which claimed to present a comprehensive social study. Such projects have been definitively compromised by postromantic critique, postcolonial protest, and postmodern disillusionment.9

      But in spite of its appearance, that prefix post- doesn’t make things any easier. Any museum of this size and ambition is today saddled with a double status; it is necessarily also a museum of the museum, a preserve not for endangered species but for an endangered self, a “metamuseum”: the museal preservation of a project ruthlessly dated and belonging to an age long gone whose ideological goals have been subjected to extensive critique.10 Willy-nilly, such a museum solicits reflections on and of its own ideological positions and history. It speaks to its own complicity with practices of domination while it continues to pursue an educational project that, having emerged out of those practices, has been adjusted to new conceptions and pedagogical needs. Indeed, the use of the museum in research and education is insisted on in its self-representations, including the Guide.

      · 9. For an example of the postmodern critique, see Michael M. J. Fischer, “Ethnicity and the Postmodern Arts of Memory,” in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, ed. Clifford and George E. Marcus (Berkeley, 1986), pp. 194-233.

      · 10. The metamuseal function of a museum like the American Museum is analyzed in Ames, Museums, the Public, and Anthropology.

      See also: Mieke Bal, De-Disciplining the Eye  ·  Mieke Bal, Semiotic Elements in Academic Practices

      Mieke Bal is professor of the theory of literature at the University of Amsterdam and retains a visiting professorship in the comparative arts program at the University of Rochester. Her most recent book is Reading “Rembrandt”: Beyond the Word-Image Opposition (1991).

    • 595Nancy Fraser
    • The recent struggle over the confirmation of Clarence Thomas and the credibility of Anita Hill raises in a dramatic and pointed way many of the issues at stake in theorizing the public sphere in contemporary society. At one level, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Hill’s claim that Thomas sexually harassed her constituted an exercise in democratic publicity as it has been understood in the classical liberal theory of the public sphere. The hearings opened to public scrutiny a function of government, namely, the nomination and confirmation of a Supreme Court justice. They thus subjected a decision of state officials to the force of public opinion. Through the hearings, in fact, public opinion was constituted and brought to bear directly on the decision itself, affecting the process by which the decision was made as well as its substantive outcome. As a result, state officials were held accountable to the public by means of a discursive process of opinion and will formation.

      Yet that classical liberal view of the public sphere does not tell the whole story of these events.1 If were examine the Thomas confirmation struggle more closely, we see that the very meaning and boundaries of the concept of publicity was at stake. The way the struggle unfolded, moreover, depended at every point on who had the power to successfully and authoritatively define where the line between the public and the private would be drawn. It depended as well on who had the power to police and defend that boundary.

      · 1. See Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger (Cambridge, Mass., 1989).

      See also: Nancy Fraser, Abnormal Justice

      Nancy Fraser is associate professor of philosophy and faculty fellow of the Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research at Northwestern University, where she also teaches in the women’s studies program. She is the author of Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse, and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory (1989). She is currently working on Keywords of the Welfare State, a jointly authored book with Linda Gordon.