Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Spring 1999

Volume 25 Issue 3
    • 405Marjorie Perloff
    • One of the cardinal principles—perhaps the cardinal principle—of American Language poetics (as of the related current in England, usually labeled “linguistically innovative poetries”)2 has been the dismissal of “voice” as the foundational principle of lyric poetry. In the preface to his anthology In the American Tree (1986), Ron Silliman famously declared that Robert Grenier's “I HATE SPEECH” manifesto, published in the first issue of the San Francisco journal This (1971), “announced a breach—and a new moment in American writing”—a rejection of “simple ego psychology in which the poetic text represents not a person, but a persona, the human as unified object. And the reader likewise.”3 From the other coast, Charles Bernstein similarly denounced “voice” as the “privileged structure in the organization and interpretation of poems.”4 And in his early essay “Stray Straws and Straw Men,” Silliman is Bernstein's Exhibit A for a constructivist poetry, a poetry that undermines the “natural look,” with its “personal subject matter & a flowing syntax.”5 “Ron Silliman,” Bernstein writes, “has consistently written a poetry of visible borders: a poetry of shape,” one that “may discomfort those who want a poetry primarily of personal communication, flowing freely from the inside with the words of a natural rhythm of life, lived daily” (“SS,” pp. 40-41). And the essay goes on to unmask Official Verse Culture, with its “sanctification” of “authenticity,” “artlessness,” “spontaneity,” and claim for self-presence, the notion, widely accepted in the poetry of the 1960s, that “the experience is present to me” (“SS,” pp. 41, 42).6

      · 2. See, for example, Out of Everywhere: Linguistically Innovative Poetry by Women in North America and the UK, ed. Maggie O'Sullivan (London, 1996).

      3. Ron Silliman, “Language, Realism, Poetry,” in In the American Tree, ed. Silliman (Orono, Maine, 1986), pp. Xv, xix.

      · 4. Charles Bernstein, “An Interview with Tom Beckett,” Content's Dream: Essays 1975-1984 (Los Angeles, 1986), p. 408.

      · 5. Bernstein, “Stray Straws and Straw Men,” Content's Dream, p. 41; hereafter abbreviated “SS.”

      · 6. Compare the Beckett interview, where Bernstein remarks, “Voice... is inextricably tied up with the organizing of the poem along psychological parameters,” “a self-constituting project.” “To try to unify the style of work around this notion of self is to take the writing to be not only reductively autobiographical in trying to define the sound of me but also to accept that the creation of a persona is somehow central to writing poetry.” And, again, “It's a mistake, I think, to posit the self as the primary organizing feature of writing” (Bernstein, “An Interview with Tom Beckett,” pp. 407, 408).

      See also: Marjorie Perloff, Avant-Garde in a Different Key: Karl Kraus's The Last Days of Mankind  ·  Marjorie Perloff, Between Verse and Prose: Beckett and the New Poetry

      Marjorie Perloff's most recent books are Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media (1992), Wittgenstein's Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary (1996, 1999), and Poetry On and Off the Page: Essays for Emergent Occasions (1998). She is Sadie Dernham Patek Professor of Humanities at Stanford University.

    • 435Elizabeth Abel
    • In a wrenching scene of instruction that Tim Reid inserts into his recent film adaptation of Clifton L. Taulbert's memoir Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored (1989), Poppa initiates his five-year-old grandson Cliff to the construction of race in the Mississippi Delta in the early 1950s. After Cliff, who has scampered to use the bathroom in a filling station on one of their Saturday morning forays out of the “colored section of Glen Allan, is stopped by a white attendant who points censoriously to the White Only sign on the bathroom door the child can't read, Poppa takes upon himself the burden of teaching Cliff to decode the racial formation of the universe “uptown.” Reading and racialization are mutually constitutive: to comprehend racial difference Cliff must enter the symbolic register, but the price of entry is submission to the racial regime. Initials are the instrument of initiation: writing the first letters of the words white and colored on two halves of a piece of paper folded down the center, Poppa teaches Cliff how to position himself vis-à-vis the Jim Crow signs on the bathroom doors (fig. 1). That reading race is prerequisite to reading oneself is reiterated in the next scene, in which Poppa teaches his grandson how to recognize his name by writing Cliff (which begins with the same letter as colored) on the magic pad the boys selects as his weekend treat at the white-owned toy store. Although the disappearance of Cliff's name when Poppa lifts the top sheet enacts the signature's tenuous purchase on the body, the racial order remains absolute. Reid makes its disciplinary apparatus terrifyingly explicit in the culminating scene of this sequence—a police-escorted Ku Klux Klan march through town—but also reveals, by resignifying the initials W and C, how this oder gains authority as a system of signs. By redefining the water closet, the classic site of sexual difference, as the site of racial difference, Reid brilliantly implies that race not sex is the dyad that founds the symbolic register.

      See also: Elizabeth Abel, Black Writing, White Reading: Race and the Politics of Feminist Interpretation  · Elizabeth Abel, Double Take: Photography, Cinema, and the Segregated Theater

      Elizabeth Abel is associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley; the author of Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis (1989); editor of Writing and Sexual Difference (1982); coeditor of Female Subjects in Black and White: Race, Psychoanalysis, Feminism (1997); and author of the book in progress (from which this essay is drawn) Signs of the Times: The Visual Politics of Jim Crow. Her most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry is “Black Writing, White Reading: Race and the Politics of Feminist Interpretation” (Spring 1993).

    • 482Lesley Stern
    • There comes a time when the ferocity of craving palls, you are drained dry by it, no longer do you want this savagery. What you want instead is kindness. Searching for something other than the casual cruelty bred of addiction you become fixated, all you can see in the world are signs and hints and subtle imitations of kindness: Walking in the street you're caught by a face; rushing to catch the bus you're arrested by a gesture that speaks kindness. In the cinema you see a man turn into a werewolf and you think of labradors and golden retrievers and dogs for the blind and you go soft in your centre. Your need conjures into existence a gentle, solicitous universe vibrating with good intentions that go forth and multiply—just as the magician conjures a rabbit out of a hat and by this singular and miraculous act initiates a rabbitification of the world. When I contemplate your craving I think of Brecht's account of the temptation to be good,1 and I see that libidinal energy can attach itself even to kindness. I imagine you sucking the streets, gobbling all the trash and debris and detritus, just to find a speck of kindness, or sucking vampirelike all kindness from every living body so that in the end there are only ghosts remaining in the streets, anaemic ghosts, no longer wanting anything at all.

      · 1. This is a leitmotiv that recurs throughout Brecht's work. As the singer puts it bluntly to Gruscha in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, 'Fearful is the seductive power of goodness!' (Bertolt Brecht, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, in The Plays by Bertolt Brecht, trans. Eric Bentley [New York, 1983], p. 147).

      See also: Lesley Stern, Paths That Wind through the Thicket of Things

      Lesley Stern is a former smoker who grew up on a tobacco farm in Rhodesia. She is a videomaker, writer, and film theorist who teaches in the School of Film, Theatre, and Dance at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. She is the author of The Scorsese Connection (1995) and is currently a scholar at the Getty Research Institute, where she is continuing research on township theatre in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

    • 505Bernard Harrison
    • 'White Mythology' was originally published in 1971 in Poétiques and reappeared as the longest of the eleven essays in Marges de la philosophie (1972), essays which, in various ways and from various directions, 'argue their way through a rigorous and consequential treatment of the various blind-spots, aporias or antinomies that characterize the discourse of philosophic reason'. The essay's topic is, broadly speaking, the place of metaphor in philosophical discourse. The title is taken from Anatole France's acidly witty dialogue 'Ariste and Polyphile, or the Language of Metaphysics', from The Garden of Epicurus. Polyphile is discovered by the metaphysician Ariste leafing through 'one of those little works that bring the wisdom of the ages within reach of your hand. It reviews all systems, one by one, from the old Eleatics down to the latest Eclectics, and it ends up with M. Lachelier'. Polyphile, however, is not interested in the getting of wisdom. Remarkably anticipating Derrida's own interests, he is concerned coley with 'the verbal form' ('la forme verbale') of the characteristic utterances of metaphysics, of which his little conspectus, opened at random in the middle, has furnished him with the following splendid example: 'The Spirit possesses God in proportion as it participates in the absolute' ('AP', p. 193).

      See also: J. Harris Miller, Derrida Enisled

      Bernard Harrison was until 1992 professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex and has since then held the E. E. Ericksen Chair in Philosophy at the University of Utah. For many years he has divided his time between philosophy and literary studies. His work in the former category includes Meaning and Structure (1972) and Form and Content (1973); and, in the latter, 'Tom Jones': The Novelist as Moral Philosopher (1975) and Inconvenient Fictions (1991). At the moment he is collaborating with Patricia Hanna on a book on the concept of reference. He is completing a book on the development of Wittgenstein's thought as well as a book on the notion of misreading as it has affected literary studies.

    • 535James D. Herbert
    • This is an essay out of time. It treats a cathedral and a Latin requiem, yet finds the pair not sprouting up in some comfortably appropriate medieval setting but rather proffered before the English public in 1962. And it evokes an England of that decade not blossoming in cultural transformation as we might tend to imagine it—mods and teddy boys, David Hockney and R. B. Kitaj, Blow-Up and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band—but rather one closer in period spirit, if not in comic tone and Edwardian style, to the world of P. G. Wodehouse.

      See also: James D. Herbert, The Debts of Divine Music in Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen  ·  James D. Herbert, Courbet, Incommensurate and Emergent

      James D. Herbert is associate professor of art history and graduate advisor for the Program in Visual Studies at the University of California, Irvine. His most recent book is Paris 1937: Worlds on Exhibition (1998).

    • 566Carlo Rotella
    • The emotional peaks of the evening came early. Angel Nales, a local high school hero who trained at the Larry Holmes Training Center in nearby Easton, won his 112-pound bout against Ernie Bizzarro, one of the fighting Bizzaros of Erie. It was the first bound of the card, an undistinguished affair in which both kids threw plenty of punches, most of which did not conform to the textbook definitions of jab, cross, hook, and uppercut. Bizzarro might have been the more accomplished boxer, but he lost the initiative and forgot his craft. The judges' decision in favor of Nales seemed fair, but the Bizzarro corner erupted when it was announced. Even before the crowd was settled in its seats for the evening there were angry men in sweat clothes shouting and passionately restraining one another while guards rushed to ringside to calm everybody down. After the Bizzarro Boxing Club faction stormed off the audience settled in happily, like fighters who have broken a sweat and are ready to get to work.

      See also: Keri Walsh, Why Does Mickey Rourke Give Pleasure?

      Carlo Rotella is a fellow at Harvard University's W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research. His essay on women's boxing is drawn from a book in progress on boxing, blues, gambling, and other forms of urban culture. His first book, October Cities: The Development of Urban Literature, appeared in 1998.

    • 599Jane Gallop
    • In Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment, in the chapter “Consensual Amorous Relations,” I argued that, whatever the actual policy on consensual relations, to list them in harassment policies is a theoretical mistake with far-reaching practical consequences. As I wrote in the book,

      their very inclusion within harassment policies indicates that consensual relations are themselves considered a type of sexual harassment.

      Sexual harassment has always been defined as unwanted sexual attention. But with this expansion into the realm of consensual relations, the concept can now encompass sexual attention that is reciprocated and very much welcome. This reconfigures the notion of harassment, suggesting that what is undesirable finally is not unwelcome attention but sexuality per se. Rather than some sexuality being harassing because of its unwanted nature, the inference is that sexuality is in and of itself harassment.1

      I would still insist on the danger of this inclusion, a danger we all ought to be able to agree upon, however we feel about teacher-student sex. I hope that even those who are completely opposed to any sex between teachers and students will accept the idea that consensual sex must not be treated as harassment. If we want people to take sexual harassment seriously, it is imperative to distinguish it from any form of consenting relations, even—or especially—those some people might find objectionable.

      · 1. Jane Gallop, Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment (Durham, N.C., 1997), p. 32.

      Jane Gallop is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Her most recent book is Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment (1997). She is currently working on a project of family photography to be entitled “Living with His Camera.”

    • 610James R. Kincaid
    • Correct me if I'm wrong here, but Jane Gallop's resistance to reasonableness seems both winning and, well, reasonable. In reflecting on Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment two years after, she becomes, I'm afraid, persuasive. Worse, she becomes clear, wins us over, makes distinctions. She distinguishes wanted from unwanted sex, harassment from fun. That seems entirely sensible, which is why she loses me a little. I, who find myself fascinated by Gallop's analysis of her own work and positively bewitched by my own. I know a lot about these matters, as it happens, and neither my knowledge nor my experience is corrupted by sharp distinctions or reasonableness. Here's what I feel, deeply, about Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment.

      James R. Kincaid—peppy, hairy, and forgiving—seeks Another for off-road adventures leading to romance. Author of, most recently, Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting (“Not bad!” one critic raved) and Aerol Arnold Professor at the University of Southern California, Kincaid loves Jane Gallop, the editor of this journal, and his faithful wife of many years.

    • 617Ann Pellegrini
    • The territory of sexual harassment is getting more crowded. Increasingly, universities have come to amend their sexual harassment policies to include so-called third party allegations of sexual harassment. In essence, as Janet E. Halley has pointed out, the new turn in sexual harassment (or, in her formulation, sexuality harassment) policies is “to allow someone to complain about someone else's sexual relationships.”1 In the university context, the most frequent focus of this intensified regulatory attention is consensual sexual relationships between faculty and students. Increasingly, she argues, third party allegations may be brought even when—perhaps especially when—the student herself or, less frequently, himself has consented to the relation, does not consider herself to be a victim of sexual harassment, and/or has no complaint with the quid pro quo the amorous relationship may imply. The admission of third parties to the scene of amorous relations, reasonable on its face, casts so skeptical an eye on sexual agency and consent as to overturn those categories altogether. However, the reasonableness of this recasting itself depends on a set of assumptions about power, pedagogy, and (hetero)sexuality that are not analyzed but taken for granted.

      · 1. Janet E. Halley, “Sexuality Harassment” (paper presented at the conference “Queer Publics, Queer Privates,” New York University, New York, 1 May 1998).

      Ann Pellegrini is assistant professor of English and American literature and language at Harvard University. She is the author of Performance Anxieties: Staging Psychoanalysis, Stage Race (1997). She serves on the board of directors of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) at the City University of New York.

    • 626John Frow and Meaghan Morris
    • The value of Povinelli's essay in this context is that it catches neatly the unhappy paradox of difference theories posited as an alternative to the politics of identity: that they come to rely on the self-identity of the different. Her argument is that the Australian High Court's Mabo judgement (more precisely the complex of Mabo and Others v. The State of Queensland (1992), the Native Title Act of 1993, and The Wik Peoples v. The State of Queensland (1996), proclaimed both by the court and by the Labor government (1990-96) of Paul Keating as constituting a moment of restoration of rights and of national reconciliation, in fact returns meagre benefits to Aborigines and imposes a criterion of authenticity to which they must conform (in a 'performance [of cultural difference] before the law' [p. 591]) in order to receive entitlement. Recognising a performance of nonmodernity (see pp. 604-5), the law actively discourages any ambivalence about customary identities.

      John Frow is Darnell Professor of English at the University of Queensland and the author most recently of Time and Commodity Culture (1997). Meaghan Morris is an Australian Research Council Senior Fellow at the University of Technology, Sidney. Her latest book is Too Soon Too Late: History in Popular Culture (1998).

    • 631Elizabeth A. Povinelli
    • John Frow and Meaghan Morris offer two major criticisms of my approach to Australian multiculturalism as outlined in my essay “The State of Shame: Australian Multiculturalism and the Crisis of Indigenous Citizenship” (Critical Inquiry 24 [Winter 1998]: 575-610). They critique what they see as an assumption on my part that the state can or should be viewed as a “singular, unified, and intelligent agent” and that the juridical branch shares “an intentionality with the government” (John Frow and Meaghan Morris, “Two Laws: Response to Elizabeth Povinelli,” Critical Inquiry 25 [Spring 1999]: 627). And they critique how I write off the multicultural project—or at least the “certainty” with which I supposedly do so (p. 627).

      Elizabeth A. Povinelli is associate professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Labor's Lot: The Power, History, and Culture of Aboriginal Action (1993). She is currently working on a study of Australian multiculturalism and indigenous sexuality and citizenship.