Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Spring 2003

Volume 29 Issue 3
    • 389Stanley Fish
    • When in the wake of September 11 a number of commentators began to draw lines of cause and effect between what had happened and the “rise” of postmodernism, a new chapter was opened in a very old story. It is the story of the supposed relationship between philosophy at its highest reaches and the events of history. The governing thesis that makes the story go is that philosophy matters and matters both at the societal level—the actions of a society will in some sense follow from the philosophical views encoded in its institutions—and at the level of the individual who will think or do something as a consequence of the philosophical views to which he or she is committed. My counterthesis is that philosophy doesn’t matter and that when faced with a crisis or choice or decision you and I will typically have recourse to many things—archives, consultations with experts, consultations with friends, consultations with psychiatrists, consultations with horoscopes—but one of the things we will not typically consult (and if we did it wouldn’t do us any good) is some philosophical position we happen to espouse.

      See also: Stanley Fish, Consequences  ·  Stanley Fish, Spectacle and Evidence in "Samson Agonistes"

      Stanley Fish is dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His most recent books are The Trouble with Principle (1999) and How Milton Works (2001).

    • 418Horst Bredekamp
    • Because the meaning of the German word Bild includes image, picture, figure, and illustration, the term Bildwissenschaft has no equivalence in the English language. It seems as if this linguistic difference is deepening an ongoing distinction between English‐ and German‐speaking art history.

      In Austria and Germany the principal elements of the discipline were created around 1900 and continued to be developed until 1933. After 1970 a major revival of art history as Bildwissenschaft took place in German art history. Advertisements, photography, nonart mass photography, film, video, and political iconography became regular subjects.

      See also: Horst Bredekamp, From Walter Benjamin to Carl Schmitt, via Thomas Hobbes

      Horst Bredekamp is professor of art history at Humboldt University, Berlin, is the author of The Lure of Antiquity and the Cult of the Machine (1995), Thomas Hobbes’s Visual Strategies (1999), and Sankt Peter in Rom und das Prinzip der produktiven Zerstörung: Bau und Abbau von Bramante bis Bernini (2000).

    • 429Maureen N. McLane
    • Minstrelsy is a Janus‐faced muse, a figure of obsolescence but also of a peculiar resilience. It still has much to teach us about poetry, historicity, and, ultimately, the condition of mediality. Through minstrelsy, poets began to discover the modern problematic of making that Pound later formulated in two famous dicta—to write “poems including history” while also “making it new.” In the mid‐twentieth century, John Berryman found in minstrelsy a strategy for voicing, lampooning, sentimentalizing, and racializing the splits in lyric subjectivity: featuring Henry (a white American “occasionally in blackface”) and the Negro‐dialect‐speaking Mr. Bones (the laconic straightman), Berryman’s Dream Songs offer perhaps the most famous twentieth‐century example of the poet‐as‐minstrelling‐maker. Yet minstrelsy even in its American transmutations need not always be in blackface.

      See also: Michael Rogin, Blackface, White Noise: The Jewish Jazz Singer Finds His Voice  ·  Catherine M. Cole, Reading Blackface in West Africa: Wonders Taken for Signs

      Maureen N. McLane is a junior fellow at the Society of Fellows, Harvard University and author of Romanticism and the Human Sciences: Poetry, Population, and the Discourse of the Species (2000). Her poems have recently appeared in New American Writing, Jacket, and sugarmule. She is currently working on two books: Balladeering, Minstrelsy, and Other Poetic Mediations of Culture and History, 18002000 and Poetry in Prose: Lost Souls, Dead Poets, Live Feeds, and Other Media Phenomena.

    • 453Geoffrey Galt Harpham
    • Upon the publication in 1989 of The Sublime Object of Ideology, it was immediately apparent that the author, an unknown Slovenian scholar named Slavoj Žižek, had mastered all the skills required by academic discourse. An accomplished scholar who could boast of multilingual familiarity with an immense range of materials, a philosophical sophistication that few could match, a thorough mastery of the most difficult and cryptic texts, and a witty and engaging style, Žižek seemed to be possessed of every possible gift. Incorporating arguments and examples from literature, linguistics, psychoanalysis, film studies, philosophy, opera, theology, political theory, electronic technology, history, popular culture, and current events, he seemed to be attempting the impossible, a total theorization of the world. More metaphysical than the Germans, more pop culture than the Americans, more empirical than the British, and more theoretical than the French, Žižek combined all these traditions into a discourse of unprecedented heterogeneity.

      See also: Slavoj Žižek, A Plea for Leninist Intolerance  ·  Geoffroy Galt Harpham, So... What Is Enlightenment? An Inquisition into Modernity

      Geoffrey Galt Harpham is president and director of the National Humanities Center in North Carolina. His most recent books are Shadows of Ethics: Criticism and the Just Society (1999) and Language Alone: The Critical Fetish of Modernity (2002).

    • 486Slavoj Žižek
    • If we ignore the weird attribution of the idea that Marx invented the symptom (an old thesis of Lacan) to me, the curious detail in this passage is the “no further advance is anticipated”—as if, for me, Lacan is the highest, unsurpassable, point of theoretical truth. The problem here is not only that this is simply not the case (in all my most recent books, I dwell in detail on the final deadlock of Lacan’s thought) but that Harpham’s ironic remark fits perfectly the predominant attitude towards Lacan in cultural studies. My work is often described as Lacanian dogmatics; however, one should just compare it with, say, the works of the leading Derrideans today. How many of them directly address the limitations of Derrida? So why is being a Derridean considered a normal orientation, while being a Lacanian is as a rule disqualified as quasi‐theological dogmatism? On a more general level, I think Harpham’s remark relies on one of the most deplorable postmodern cliches: the avoidance of firm and straight positions. Instead of a clear conclusion, a typical postmodern essay ends with a putative rhetorical question, along the lines of, May we then, perhaps, suggest a possibility that… —a case of arrogance masked as false modesty if ever there was one.

      Slavoj Žižek, philosopher and psychoanalyst, is senior researcher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana. His most recent publications are On Belief (2001), Opera’s Second Death (2002), and Welcome to the Desert of the Real (2002).

    • 504Geoffrey Galt Harpham
    • I am grateful for Slavoj Žižek’s long and engaged response, which clarifies a number of issues and leads on to others (Slavoj Žižek, “A Symptom—of What?” Critical Inquiry 29 [Spring 2003]: 486–503). Many of the features of Žižek’s thought that I tried to identify—rapidity, passion, high philosophical and political seriousness, a certain will to excess, and pure intellectual power—are in evidence here, and the stakes of his work are spelled out with admirable precision. On a personal level, too, I am grateful to Žižek for providing the bracing, once‐in‐a‐lifetime experience of having a man I had just praised as the most formidable philosophical mind of his generation immediately denounce me as a lunatic.

      Geoffrey Galt Harpham is president and director of the National Humanities Center in North Carolina. His most recent books are Shadows of Ethics: Criticism and the Just Society (1999) and Language Alone: The Critical Fetish of Modernity (2002).

    • 508Christopher Newfield
    • There is much to like about John Guillory’s essay, “The Sokal Affair and the History of Criticism” (Critical Inquiry 28 [Winter 2002]: 470–508). He offers a helpful account of some aspects of science studies. He is unusually candid about the humanities’ second‐class status in the university, where its intellectual effects attract too little attention. He asks us to be at least as busy generating and explaining our own knowledge as we are criticizing other people’s. And he calls for the further development of an “interpretive human science” that isn’t limited to one side of the traditional split between “naturalistic and interpretive methodologies” (p. 507).

      Christopher Newfield is professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of The Emerson Effect (1996), Ivy and Industry: Business and the Making of the American University, 18801980 (forthcoming, 2003), and Middle Class Bound: Business and the Making of the American University, 19702000 (forthcoming, 2004).

    • 526John Guillory
    • Although Christopher Newfield is kind enough to say that “there is much to like” about my essay, he goes on to dissent quite thoroughly from its argument (p. 508). The disagreement is healthy and welcome, as it affords me the opportunity to clarify certain points that otherwise obscure the real differences between Newfield and me, as well as areas of possible agreement. More troubling is Newfield’s manifest assurance throughout his response that literary and cultural studies can safely shrug off a critique such as I offer as at base nothing more than the usual complaint about politics. Such carping in Newfield’s view will at worst temporarily slow down cultural studies’ ambitious program for “systematizing its conjunctions of the body, consciousness, personal experience, cultural formations, historical movements, and social power” (p. 524). If I must resign myself to the fact of appearing not to be, so to speak, with the program, I will insist nonetheless that the purpose of my paper was not to advocate a retrograde formalist or apolitical disciplinary practice. It was rather to explore the historical conditions enabling and constraining the formation of the cultural disciplines, with the intention of recommending a strategy for improving the status and effectiveness of these disciplines in the modern university.

      John Guillory is professor and chair of the department of English at New York University and the author of Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (1993). He is currently working on two projects, a sociology of literary study in the Anglo‐American university and a book on the development of philosophical prose in Early Modern England.