Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Spring 1993

Volume 19 Issue 3
    • 397Louis Marin
    • Visitors to the observation deck of the Sears Tower—“the highest tower in the world”—can buy, when back on the ground, some slides that commemorate their visit and keep it in their memory. One of them (fig. 1) recalls the prospect they have discovered from the top floor of the building, from its western side, the plain stretching away as far as the eye can see, the others (fig. 2, for example), the views of the tower from the ground at a distance. Two prospects, two visions of the world confront each other: the one from above, the highest viewpoint possible on earth from a building, opens up a space to the stupefied gaze led to its visual limit and to the spatial frontier of the horizon where gaze and earth seem to coincide. In the slide, taken at dusk, space up to its ultimate background is crisscrossed by a linear network of light spots that imperatively, in the coming night invading the image, leads the gaze if not toward a vanishing point at least to a plane where sky and earth fade and vanish into each other.1 The spectator's eye, in the position of a bold bird's-eye-view,2 is located in a dominating position and at such altitude that his gaze “collects” a space that he “really” totalizes, the plain up to its extreme frontier.3 As a dominating eye, a totalizing view, a scopic or theoretical controlling power of space, the beholder, in one moment through his gaze, identifies himself with the tower's master4 and metonymically with the master of the world. This process of totalization at work through the beholder's gaze is nevertheless displaying its practical weakness, its cognitive uncertainty, its ontological trouble from its beginning to its end.

      · 1. Such a regular grid tracing space, seen only at night, appears less to define loci and individual properties than to indicate possible movements across space, an abstract set of directions for moving objects, all potentially moving towards the horizon line.

      · 2. A position that the cartographical fictions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries never dared to offer to their “readers.” See Discovering New Worlds: Essays on Medieval Exploration and Imagination, ed. Scott D. Westrem (New York, 1991); P. D. A. Harvey, The History of Topographical Maps: Symbols, Pictures and Surveys (London, 1980); Louis Maris, Utopics: Spatial Play, trans. Robert A. Vollrath (Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1984); Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley, 1984); and my analysis of seventeenth-century maps of Paris in Portrait of the King, trans. Martha M. Houle (1981; Minneapolis, 1988).

      · 3. In fact, the image of the prospect of the western plain is an emblematic one. On the observation deck of the tower, the visitor contemplates successively the four sides of the world according to the four compass points. The “vision” of the western space is at the same time one of the four “real” visions of the world and an iconic symbol—or a synecdochic emblem—of them all.

      · 4. The visitor does not care if Sears exists as a living, individual, real person. He has only the vague feeling that the name Sears symbolically (that is to say, legally) designates a fictive persona of an important international company.

      See also: John Johnston, Machinic Vision

      Louis Marin, philosopher, semiotician, and historian of art, was Directeur d'Études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. He will long be remembered as the author of many critical works on cultural discourse since the sixteenth century. His works in English translation include The Semiotics of the Passion Narrative: Topics and Figures (1980), Utopics: Spatial Play (1984), Portrait of the King (1988), and Food for Thought (1989). Please see the Editorial Note on page 595 of this issue.

    • 421Siegfried Kracauer
    • This is what the film diva looks like. She is twenty-four years old, featured on the cover of an illustrated magazine, standing in front of the Hotel Excelsior on the Lido. The date is September. If one were to look through a magnifying glass one could make out the grain, the millions of little dots that constitute the diva, the waves and the hotel. The picture, however, does not refer to the dot matrix but to the living diva on the Lido. Time: the present. The caption calls her demonic: our demonic diva. Still, she does not lack a certain look. The bangs, the seductive position of the head, and the twelve lashes right and left—all these details, diligently recorded by the camera, are in their proper place, a flawless appearance. Everyone recognizes her with delight since everyone has already seen the original on the screen. It is such a good likeness that she cannot be confused with anyone else, even if she is perhaps only one twelfth of a dozen Tiller girls.1 Dreamily she stands in front of the Hotel Excelsior, which basks in her fame, a being of flesh and blood, our demonic diva, twenty-four years old, on the Lido. The date is September.

      · 1. A group of militarily trained dancing girls named after the Manchester choreographer John Tiller. Introduced in the late nineteenth century, the troupe was hired in Germany by Eric Charell, the director of Berlin's Großes Schauspielhaus theater from 1924 to 1931 whose revues and operetta productions were the forerunners of the “musicals.” See Derek and Julia Parker, The Natural History of the Chorus Girl (London, 1975).

      See also: Gerald Mast, Kracauer's Two Tendencies and the Early History of Film Narrative

    • 437Miriam Hansen
    • Kracauer's late work, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality (1960), has enjoyed a long and varied history of critical rejection, from Pauline Kael's smug polemics against the author's German pedantry (1962); through Dudley Andrew's indictment of the book for its normative ontology (1976) and “naive realism” (1984) and similar charges raised from a semiotic perspective in the pages of Screen; to the standard German argument of the sixties and seventies that, with the shift in emphasis to “physical reality,” Kracauer had abandoned his earlier preoccupation with the cinema's relation to social and political reality.1 No doubt Theory of Film is an irritating book—with its pretense of academic systematicity, its liberal-humanist sentiment and bland universalism, and its grandfatherly and assimilationist diction, to say nothing of the disagreements one might have its approach to film—yet it's anything but “utterly transparent” or “direct,” as Andrew calls it, nor is it “a huge homogeneous block of realist theory.”2 On the contrary, much as Theory of Film strives toward systematicity and transparency, the text remains uneven, opaque, and contradictory in many places, defying the attempt to deduce from it any coherent, singular position.

      · 1. See Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality (New York, 1960); hereafter abbreviated T; Pauline Kael, “Is There a Cure for Film Criticism? Or, Some Unhappy Thoughts on Siegfried Kracauer's Nature of Film,” Sight and Sound 31 (Spring 1962): 56-64, rpt. In Kael, I Lost It at the Movies (Boston, 1965), pp. 269-92; J. Dudley Andrew, The Major Film Theories: An Introduction (New York, 1976), chap. 5, and Concepts in Film Theory (Oxford, 1984), p. 19. On the German reception of Theory of Film, see Helmut Lethen, “Sichtbarkeit: Kracauers Liebeslehre,” in Siegfried Kracauer: Neue Interpretationen, ed. Michael Kessler and Thomas Y. Levin (Tübingen, 1990), pp. 195-228.

      · 2. Andrew, The Major Film Theories, p. 106.

      See also: Miriam Hansen, Benjamin and Cinema: Not a One-Way Street  ·  Miriam Hansen, Why Media Aesthetics?

      Miriam Hansen is professor of English at the University of Chicago where she also directs the Film Studies Center. Her most recent book is Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film (1991). She is currently working on a study of the Frankfurt School's debates on film and mass culture.

    • 470Elizabeth Abel
    • Twyla opens the narrative of Toni Morrison's provocative story “Recitatif” (1982) by recalling her placement as an eight-year-old child in St. Bonaventure, a shelter for neglected children, and her reaction to Roberta Fisk, the roommate she is assigned: “The minute I walked in . . . I got sick to my stomach. It was one thing to be taken out of your own bed early in the morning—it was something else to be stuck in a strange place with a girl from a whole other race. And Mary, that's my mother, she was right. Every now and then she would stop dancing long enough to tell me something important and one of the things she said was that they never washed their hair and they smelled funny. Roberta sure did. Smell funny, I mean.”1 The racial ambiguity so deftly installed at the narrative's origin through codes that function symmetrically for black women and for white women (“they never washed their hair and they smelled funny”) intensifies as the story tracks the encounters of its two female protagonists over approximately thirty years. Unmediated by the sexual triangulations (the predations of white men on black women, the susceptibility of black men to white women) that have dominated black women's narrative representations of women's fraught connections across racial lines, the relationship of Twyla and Roberta discloses the operations of race in the feminine.2 This is a story about a black woman and a white woman; but which is which?

      · 1. Toni Morrison, “Recitatif,” in Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women, ed. Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Amina Baraka (New York, 1983), p. 243; hereafter abbreviated “R.” I am deeply indebted to Lula Fragd for bringing this story to my attention and to Toni Morrison for generously discussing it with me. I am also very grateful to Margaret Homans for sharing with me an early draft of “'Racial Composition': Metaphor and Body in the Writing of Race,” which became central to my thinking on writing and race; and to Janet Adelman, John Bishop, Mitchell Breitwieser, Carolyn Dinshaw, Catherine Gallagher, Anne Goldman, Crystal Gromer, Dori Hale, Saidiya Hartman, Marianne Hirsch, Tania Modleski, Helene Moglen, Michael Rogin, Dianne Sadoff, Susan Schweik, Valerie Smith, Hortense Spillers, and Jean Wyatt for their helpful comments on this essay.

      · 2. The intervention of white men in relationships between black and white women is repeatedly represented in slave narratives, best epitomized perhaps by Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself (1861); the intervention of white women in black heterosexual relationships is most fully explored in the civil rights fiction typified by Alice Walker, Meridian (1976). For a study of American literary representations of the relationships between black and white women in the nineteenth-century South, see Minrose C. Gwin, Black and White Women of the Old South: The Peculiar Sisterhood in American Literature (Knoxville, Tenn., 1985); for an optimistic characterization of interracial female friendships in recent American women's fiction, see Elizabeth Schultz, “Out of the Woods and into the World: A Study of Interracial Friendships between Women in American Novels,” in Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition, ed. Marjorie Pryse and Hortense J. Spillers (Bloomington, Ind., 1985), pp. 67-85.

      See also: Elizabeth Abel, Double Take: Photography, Cinema, and the Segregated Theater   ·  Susan Gubar, Notations in "Medias Res"

      Elizabeth Abel is associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley; the author of Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis (1989); the editor of Writing and Sexual Difference (1982); and the coeditor of The Signs Reader: Women, Gender, and Scholarship (1983) and The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development (1983).

    • 499Michael Geyer
    • The main challenge for American higher education today consists in revising and regenerating programs of general education, that is, the basic, often mandatory curriculum for undergraduate students that institutes a common, albeit highly differentiated learning.1 General education is one among several components of higher education that, especially at research universities, has become increasingly neglected. Nonetheless, it continues to be the trademark of individual colleges and universities that captures the institution's ideals of education and its mission, whatever individual scholars at the institution may pride themselves to stand for. More plainly, general education is what most American academics, particularly in the humanities, do for a living, even if they refuse to think about it. The reasons for this elision are not difficult to guess. General education is the continuation of societal learning by institutional means, professionalized socialization just barely camouflaged by scholarship, and thus ranks very low in status and remuneration. That general education does, in fact, constitute a major arena for the intellectual practice of academics is easily forgotten in the face of this unmistakable affront to academic distinction.

      · 1. General overviews are Jerry G. Gaff, General Education Today: A Critical Analysis of Controversies, Practices, and Reforms (San Francisco, 1983); Frederick Rudolph, Curriculum: A History of the American Undergraduate Course of Study since 1636 (San Francisco, 1977); and Russell Brown Thomas, The Search for a Common Learning: General Education, 1800-1960 (New York, 1962).

      See also: Stanley Fish, Boutique Multiculturalism, or Why Liberals Are Incapable of Thinking about Hate Speech  ·  Chicago Cultural Studies Group, Critical Multiculturalism

      Michael Geyer is professor of history and teaches German and world history at the University of Chicago.

    • 534Joan Hart
    • Erwin Panofsky is the most influential art historian of the twentieth century. The basis of his fame is the theory of iconology that generated a reorientation of characteristics of style. Karl Mannheim was instrumental in formulating the new subdiscipline of the sociology of knowledge that found its most controversial exposition in his book Ideology and Utopia (1929). The book has been celebrated and vilified but is undeniably a crucial text in sociology. Panofsky and Mannheim may never have met, but, in the 1920s, at a crucial period in the development of their theories for interpreting their respective subjects, they read each other's work and made significant contributions to each other's increasingly similar theories of interpretation. In Germany before the Third Reich, it was not unusual for art historians and social scientists to read each other's essays and books when the theories and practices of the cultural studies, particularly philology, were valued over those of the natural sciences.1 Philological practice was the primary but not the only connection between Panofsky and Mannheim. Their lives and work were shaped by the particular ecology of the German university system and, later, by the environment of the academies to which they escaped during the Third Reich. Even more decisive for their careers were the cataclysmic events from which they sought refuge.

      · 1. See Jeffrey Herf, Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich (Cambridge, 1984). In his chapter “Engineers as Ideologues” (pp. 152-88), Herf demonstrates how this peculiarly German phenomenon of the deprecation of the physical sciences and the elevation of the humanities was prevalent even among the prominent engineers. They thought technology should be in the service of the Kulturnation, the cultural sphere, not the capitalist state.

      See also: Jaś Elsner, The Genesis of Iconology  ·  Erwin Panofsky, The Concept of Artistic Volition

      Joan Hart has a Ph. D. from the University of California, Berkeley, in the history of art. She is currently working on a Ph. D. in history at Indiana University and on a book on Erwin Panofsky. Her book, Heinrich Wölfflin: Antinomies of Experience in Art, is forthcoming.

    • 567Nicholas Rand and Maria Torok
    • We cannot consider the world without Freud. Concepts such as the unconscious, the symptomatic symbolization of conflict, psychical topography, agencies, dreamwork, among many others, form and leaven our daily intellectual bread. We live and breathe Freud's discoveries, as it were. Our emotional and theoretical heritage is unimaginable without Freud's key ideas, for example, the systematic introduction of sexuality into psychic life; the importance of the child in understanding the adult; the deep-seated or latent meaning of mental phenomena; transference in the psychoanalytic situation; civilization and its discontents, that is, the uneasy intersection of sexuality and society; without all these and other discoveries by Freud, we would be trying to breathe without actually inhaling air. Yet we have grave reservations about some Freudian concepts, for example, penis envy in women, the death drive, frustration as a rule of therapy, and the universal complexes.

      For a long while, we have been shifting back and forth between our feelings of gratitude to Freud for having initiated us into the mysteries of the psyche and our growing awareness that theoretical as well as clinical difficulties have prevented us from giving Freud our unquestioning loyalty. Among others, the question arose, Can we follow Freud when in 1897 he set out to replace his initial hypothesis of the reality of traumas with the preeminence of instinctual fantasies? What to do when our respect for the idea of psychoanalysis requires our fidelity to Freud's project and yet, at the same time, we feel that the application of some of his constructs, such as symbolism in dreams or the successive stages of infantile libidinal development, is genuinely ill-advised?

      See also: Nicholas Rand and Maria Torok, The Secret of Psychoanalysis: History Reads Theory  ·   Nicolas Abraham and Nicholas Rand, Notes on the Phantom: A Complement to Freud's Metapsychology

      Nicholas Rand, associate professor of French at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has published on the politics of critical language, hiding in texts, translation theory, and psychoanalysis, and is the author of Le Cryptage et la vie des oeuvres (1989). Maria Torok, a practicing psychoanalyst in Paris, is the author, with the late Nicolas Abraham, of The Wolf Man's Magic Word (1986) and of L'Écorce et le noyau (1978), the latter of which is forthcoming in English translation as The Shell and the Kernel.

    • 595W. J. T. Mitchell
    • The editors of Critical Inquiry were deeply saddened to learn of the untimely death of Louis Marin this past November. Professor Marin was, of course, internationally known for his work in semiotics, discourse analysis, and seventeenth-century studies. He served as Directeur d'Études of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris and was a regular visitor to the Johns Hopkins University and several campuses of the University of California throughout his career. In the spring of 1992, the University of Chicago had the good fortune to have him as Lurcy Visiting Professor, in which capacity he gave an art history seminar on the problem of word and image that kept this editor and a devoted group of graduate students in a constant state of intellectual delight and discovery. Even more remarkable was the energy and generosity of his teaching at a time when, we now know, he was gravely ill and in considerable pain.

      Louis Marin will be sorely missed. His essay in this issue, “Frontiers of Utopia,” was the last work he completed before his death. Like so many of his writings, it combines vast learning with a speculative, visionary strain that will serve better than any words of ours as Critical Inquiry's tribute to his memory.