This essay is driven by the haunting of a different kind of racialized female body whose “flesh” survives through abstract and synthetic rather than organic means and whose personhood is animated, rather than eviscerated, by aesthetic congealment. Culturally encrusted and ontologically implicated by representations, the yellow woman is persistently sexualized yet barred from sexuality, simultaneously made and unmade by the aesthetic project. She denotes a person but connotes a style, a naming that promises but supplants skin and flesh. Simultaneously consecrated and desecrated as an inherently aesthetic object, the yellow woman troubles the certitude of racial embodiment and jeopardizes the “fact” of yellowness, pushing us to reconsider a theory of person thingness that could accommodate the politics of a human ontology indebted to commodity, artifice, and objectness.
In this essay, I examine the phenomenon of standardization—what one powerful definition of it illuminates, why it specially mattered in the nineteenth century, and how standardization might be relevant to literature and to literary criticism. What was happening, one might wonder, such that by the end of the nineteenth century the first modern standards institutes were being set up? In 1887, the Imperial Institute of Physics and Technology was established in Germany to set standards; in 1901, following its lead, both the British Standards Institute and the National Bureau of Standards. By the end of the nineteenth century, an ongoing activity had coalesced and become capable of institutionalization: it was called standardization.
“The Puritans wanted to be men of the calling,” Max Weber famously wrote in the portentous final pages of The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism; “we, on the other hand, must be.” Like the larger argument of his book, the declaration straddled structural necessity and spiritual urgency. We were all subject to the ineluctable forces of “the modern economic order,” a state of affairs, vocationally speaking, characterized by extreme specialization, hyper-rational conduct, and unblinking commitment to the work at hand. And yet, the spirit of Christian asceticism that inspired those who built this order had long since departed, leaving us to shoulder the burdens of the world they left behind without knowing exactly why we bothered. Ever since they were first organized in the decades after World War I, MBA programs programs have been guided by an implicit answer to this question. That answer has evolved over time—and the aim of this essay is to trace its troubling evolution—but throughout, the business school has remained what, long ago, the meeting house was for Max Weber: a nursery for the proper conduct of capitalism and a temple to its spirit.
Is there something to be gained any more by thinking the term global as an adjectival noun? On the surface this is a strange question to pose because the word is practically meaningless in its ubiquity. The thingness, so to speak, of global has evaporated: global industries, global science, global news, global education, global florist exchange, global commerce, global village, global warming, and so on. Global has gone from rare to ubiquitous. It has become a parasitic—if not a predatory—adjective. So once again: Is there something to be gained by thinking “global” as an adjectival noun?
This essay offers a historical clarification of what is at stake when certain philosophies purport to provide a normative foundation for a political-juridical order on the basis of philosophical truth. It does so not through a theoretical discussion of such claims in general but through a historical examination of a particularly powerful and influential instance: namely, the attempt by German idealist philosophers to provide philosophical foundations for the German religious constitution in the period between 1790 and 1848. This contextual delimitation is not primarily for the purpose of making a general topic more manageable but rather to show that the general topic is actually a generalization from particular historical contexts and cultural-political contestations. It will thus be argued that modern projects to supply constitutional orders with supervening normative philosophical or theoretical foundations often take their lead from the way in which Kantian and Hegelian philosophies contested the legitimacy of the German constitution in the nominated period. Of course the intellectual weaponry deployed by the early nineteenth-century idealists would be used in other places and times and for other purposes—for example, in the political philosophies of John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas.
Although Hurricane Katrina precipitated considerable reflection across various media, a practice crucial to our capacities to apprehend and interpret the disaster has not yet been analyzed as such. I call this practice generative assembly. I don’t mean the events of emergency and political gathering that took place in response to the massive storm and fatal, preventable levee failures—although I will propose connections between different forms of assembly. Instead I mean a kind of documentary practice. That practice, which can be undertaken individually or in collaboration, and sometimes at anonymous remove, involves the work of assembling records and signifiers related to the disaster into particular kinds of media artifacts. Those artifacts—which take shape in media as varied as comics, photobooks, paintings, exhibitions, and multithousand-item online archives—characteristically maintain the active appearance and interactive potential of selection and arrangement. In exhibiting such qualities, or so I will argue, these assembly-based artifacts support various articulable and often highly effective kinds of generativity. And thus, I will further suggest, these artifacts can constitute especially powerful means of intervening in prevailing conditions of representation and remembrance around events of environmental and social violence. Crucially, those material legacies of generative assembly can also fall short, fail, and deceive, and this is especially true of those assemblies that take digital forms. It is my contention, however, that are wrong if we thus entirely dismiss such assemblies or if we refuse their potential for dissident reuse or generative reassembly.
American poetry has been plagued from the start by an irreconcilable conflict between aesthetic illiberalism and aesthetic justice. Aesthetic justice is the resistance to morality in pursuit of the aesthetic, where the aesthetic is understood as a temporary, flickering zone of counterfactuals that allow for possibility, reflection, intensified sensation, and speculation–what I call the pataquerical.