Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 1990

Volume 16 Issue 4
    • 709Peter Galison
    • On 15 October 1959, Rudolf Carnap, a leading member of the recently founded Vienna Circle, came to lecture at the Bauhaus in Dessau, southwest of Berlin. Carnap had just finished his magnum opus, The Logical Construction of the World, a book that immediately became the bible of the new antiphilosophy announced by the logical positivists. From a small group in Vienna, the movement soon expanded to include an international following, and in the sixty years since has exerted a powerful sway over the conduct of the philosophy of science as well as over wide branches of philosophy, economics, psychology, and physics. The site of Carnap’s lecture that day, the Dessau Bauhaus, was a stunning building designed by Walter Gropius and dedicated just three years earlier. Protected by its flat roof and glass walls, the artists, architects, weavers, and furniture designers had made the school a citadel of high modernism. It was here that Carnap addressed an enthusiastic audience on “Science and Life.” “I work in science,” he began, “and you in visible forms; the two are only different sides of a single life.”1 In this paper I will explore this “single life” of which the new philosophy and the new art were to be different facets; in the process, I hope to cast light on the shared modernist impulses that drove both disciplines in the interwar years.

      1. Rudolf Carnap, lecture notes for his Bauhaus lecture, “Wissenschaft und Leben,” prepared 1 Oct. 1929 and delivered 15 Oct. 1929, transcription from shorthand by Gerald Heverly, Carnap Papers in the Archives of Scientific Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh Libraries, University of Pittsburgh (hereafter abbreviated CP, PASP), document RC 110-07-49. Quoted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh. All rights reserved. Translations are my own unless otherwise noted.

      See also: Peter Galison, Removing Knowledge  ·  Caroline A. Jones, The Modernist Paradigm: The Artworld and Thomas Kuhn ·  William J. Rankin, The Epistemology of the Suburbs: Knowledge, Production, and Corporate Laboratory Design

      Peter Galison is associate professor in the departments of philosophy and physics at Stanford University, where he co-chairs the program in the history of science. His primary interest is in the history and philosophy of experimentation, the subject of his How Experiments End (1987) and Big Science: The Growth of Large-Scale Research, edited with Bruce Hevly (forthcoming). His current project is entitled Image and Logic: The Material Culture of Modern Physics.

    • 753Johannes Fabian
    • Taken as a philosophical issue, the idea of representation implies the prior assumption of a difference between reality and its “doubles.” Things are paired with images, concepts, or symbols, acts with rules and norms, events with structures. Traditionally, the problem with representations has been their “accuracy,” the degree of fit between reality and its reproductions in the mind. When philosophers lost the hope of ever determining accuracy (and thus attaining Truth), they found consolation in the test of usefulness: a good representation is one that works. The proof of its working is that it enables us to act on the world together.1 In such a frame, science, including anthropology, is conceived as the pursuit of privileged representations, privileged in that, by their nature of by their combination, they establish knowledge of a special kind. In the case of anthropology, “culture” has served as a sort of umbrella concept for representations. The strcuturalists have been most explicit about the need to think of representation in the plural, but their position is shared, in varying degrees, by all those who conceive of (cultural) knowledge as the selection and combination of signs in systems, patterns, or structures, in short, as some kind of conceptual order ruling perceptual chaos.


      1. Remember the connection between the Kantian quest for synthetic forms and Émile Durkheim’s idea of collective representations sustained by the moral authority of a society. Durkheim certainly was one to look for the “ethic” in the “ethnic” primitive, and it makes me wonder whether Stephen A. Tyler’s characterization of postmodern ethnography as a return to “an earlier and more powerful notion of the ethical character of all discourse, as captured in the ancient significance of the family of terms ‘ethos,’ ‘ethnos,’ ‘ethics’” might not signal a return to the Durkheimian fold (Tyler, “Post-Modern Ethnography: From Document of the Occult to Occult Document,” in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, ed. James Clifford and George E. Marcus [Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1986], p. 126).

      See also: Johannes Fabian, Remembering the Other: Knowledge and Recognition in the Exploration of Central Africa

      Johannes Fabian is professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. His publications include Jamaa: A Charismatic Movement in Katanga (1971), Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (1983), and Language and Colonial Power: The Appropriation of Swahili in the Former Belgian Congo, 1880-1938 (1986). Two books will appear in 1990: History from Below: The Vocabulary of Elisabethville by André Yav, a commented edition-translation of a colonial history written in Swahili by the colonized for the colonized, and Power and Performance, a study of conceptions of power through popular wisdom and theater in Shaba/Zaire.

    • 773Annabel Patterson
    • Among the processes of canon-formation is the habit of coupling writers; and among the most powerful of couples in the traditional English literary canon is Spenser-and-Milton. Much of my own professional life has probably been determined by my first teaching assignment of 1963, which included “Spenser-and-Milton,” in those days at Toronto a famous cornerstone course carrying the tamp of the stamp of the formidable Renaissance scholar A. S. P. Woodhouse, known affectionately if disrespectfully to his students as Professor Nature-and-Grace. For several years I labored mightily, though neither naturally nor, I suspect, gracefully, on Spenser-and-Milton, sensing all the time that the connections I made, the doctrines I was conveying, lacked persuasion; and no doubt the seed of this essay was sown in those days, although its angle of sight was not then available, obscured on all sides by institutional pillars.

      When we couple writers we usually imply a criterion of fit or at least explicable mating. While there is nothing to prohibit a merely comparativist curiosity, or coupling in the service of some other agenda, we presumably give greater authority to relationships that imply causality, even, or especially, if causality is defined as the influence of the one writer on the other. Most of such relationships are unidirectional, from the earlier to the later dead, and a plausible coupling requires either the successor’s own testimony that the influence-relation existed, or other evidence that the influence-relation was strong enough to be formative; or, preferably, both.

      See also: Christine Froula, When Eve Reads Milton: Undoing the Canonical Economy

      Annabel Patterson, professor of literature and English at Duke University, is the author of Hermogenes and the Renaissance (1970), Marvell and the Civic Crown (1978), Censorship and Interpretation (1984), Pastoral and Ideology: Virgil to Valéry (1987), and Shakespeare and the Popular Voice (1989).

    • 794Yves Bonnefoy
    • For the past thirty years or so we have witnessed the greatest period—at least for France—in the history of thinking about literature; I want first of all to stress this point, adding, however, that despite this fact problems of fundamental significance still seem to me to have been poorly raised.

      Among these is the problem of how to read a work. And yet, it is not as though reading has not been the object of continual attention, from the American fascination after the war with “close reading” to the work of the deconstructionists: a revolution has taken place that has made reading the very center of its concern. Indeed, today, we think we can recognize in the structure of a text, in the relation between its words, a reality that is much more reliable and tangible than the meaning that runs along the surface, or than the author’s intention, or even than the author’s very being, the idea of which has been rendered problematical to the point of dissolution by the ambiguities inherent in his simplest utterances. It is not the writer who is real, it is his language—which is neither true nor false, signifying only itself. What is more, it is infinite; its forms and effects are disseminated everywhere in a book without ever being able to be totalized: and because of this, reading has a more clearly creative function than ever before—that is, of course, if readers make themselves attentive to all the levels in the depths of the text and bring them as much as they can into the various networks of their analyses. Reading has become a responsibility, a contribution, equal in its way to writing, and moreover it has now become an end in itself, since those who read need not judge themselves more real, more present in their relation to themselves, than the writer. And so, from this point of view, it would seem difficult to say that the problem of reading has been neglected by contemporary criticism.

      See also: Frances Ferguson, Now It's Personal: D. A. Miller and Too-Close Reading

      Yves Bonnefoy is professor of comparative poetics at the Collège de France in Paris. He is the author of five books of poetry, including the recent Ce qui fut sans lumière (1987). Bonnefoy is also a distinguished translator of English poets, such as Donne and Shakespeare, Keats and Yeats. His books of criticism include Rimbaud par lui-même (1961); Rome 1630: l’horizon du premier baroque (1970); Le Nuage rouge (1977); L’Improbable et autres essays (1980); La Verité de parole (1988). He is the editor of the Dictionnaire des Mythologies et des Religions des sociétés traditionelles et du monde antique (1981) and of the forthcoming Dictionnaire des poétiques. He received the French Prix Goncourt for poetry in 1987 and the Bennett Award in 1988. John Naughton is associate professor of romance literatures at Colgate University. He is the author of a critical study of Yves Bonnefoy called The Poetics of Yves Bonnefoy (1984) and the editor of a volume of Bonnefoy’s essays in translation entitled The Act and the Place of Poetry (1989). His translation of Bonnefoy’s Ce qui fut sons lumière and his book on Louis-René des Forêts will appear in 1991.

    • 807Calvin Bedient
    • We had thought that poetry was a grace beyond biology, except for the biomovements of dancers, athletes, or those we love most. We had thought it a contradictory “organic” perfection in the relatively staying realm of the symbolical. But, no, according to Kristeva’s theory, poetry is essentially antiformal—in fact, so profoundly antiaesthetic that the proper words for describing it are not beauty, inspiration, form, instinctive rightness, inevitability, or delicacy (to leave aside unaesthetic terms such as perception and truth, which the theory also renders inappropriate). Instead, it attracts terms drawn from politics and war: corruption, infiltration, disruption, shatterings, negation, supplantation, and murder. Poetry is the chora’s guerrilla war against culture.

      According to Kristeva, poetry reverses the ritualistic theological sacrifice of the soma, a sacrifice subsequently exacted, like a sales tax, through the “thetic” element of discourse, its determinate articulations. For Kristeva, the “theologization of the thetic” is what culture is (RPL, p. 78)—and as such it has no fundamental right to be, since what is fundamental is the chora and not God. I refer here as throughout to the revolutionary Kristeva of the late sixties and early seventies, the Kristeva whose “we,” as she says in “My Memory’s Hyperbole,” was a putatively communist Parisian party for “permanent revolution.”4 Revolution in Poetic Language is a monumental, late end product of this phase of Kristeva’s thinking; indeed, there are signs that she had already surpassed it by the time the book was published.

      4. See Kristeva, “My Memory’s Hyperbole,” trans. Athena Viscusi, in The Female Autograph: Theory and Practice of Autobiography from the Tenth to the Twentieth Century, ed. Domna C. Stanton (1984; Chicago, 1987), pp. 219-35.

      See also: Calvin Bedient, How I Slugged It out with Toril Moi and Stayed Awake  ·  Julia Kristeva, Is There a Feminine Genius?

      Calvin Bedient is professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. His most recent book is He Do the Police in Different Voices (1986), a study of The Waste Land.

    • 830Charles Bernstein
    • This is not a transcription. More like a reenactment of the possibilities of performative poetics as improvisatory, open-ended.

      As a way to engage the relation of poetics to poetry and by implication differentiate poetics from literary theory and philosophy, although not necessarily from poetry.

      As a way to extend the ideas about closure—the rejection of closure—into the discussion of essays and critical writing.

      To eject, that is, the idea that there is something containable to say: completed saying.

      So that poetics becomes an activity that is ongoing, that moves in different directions at the same time, and that tries to disrupt or make problematic any formulation that seems too final or preemptively restrictive.

      Speaking at the Buffalo conference, Linda Reinfeld pointed to the wedding that was being enacted (which is really always being enacted) between critical theory and poetry as a kind of subtext of that gathering. Hearing Rosmarie Waldrop read, in that context, from Reproduction of Profiles suggested something very much along these lines: Waldrop has created a literary wedding, in the sense of wedding together, or fusing, of philosophy and poetry. In this work, she has taken phrases from Elizabeth Anscombe’s translation of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations and added—weaved in—phrases of her own making. The structure of Reproduction of Profiles provokes a number of questions, including the status of Wittgenstein’s original text, which may itself be taken as a poetic work, and also the status of the Reproduction of Profiles—what kind of a work is that?

      See also: Charles Bernstein, Disfiguring Abstraction

      Charles Bernstein is the author of a number of books of poetry, including Rough Trades, The Nude Formalism, The Lives of the Toll Takers, The Sophist, and Controlling Interests. Other books include Content’s Dream: Essays 1975-1984 and Artifice of Absorption. He coedited L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and recently edited The Politics of Poetic Form: Poetry and Public Policy.

    • 857John Hallmark Neff
    • In the absence of shared beliefs and even common interests, it should not be surprising that so much of the well-intentioned art acquired for public spaces has failed—failed as art and as art for a civic site. The conventional wisdom of simply choosing “the best artist” and then turning him or her loose to create a work within time and budget guidelines lost much credibility with the drama of Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc commission: the process of selection, erection, litigation, rejection, and removal of the sculpture from the Federal Building plaza in New York City. The new conventional wisdom? The jury, not the artist, was ultimately responsible. For Serra did precisely the kind of work for which he is respected worldwide but in a context and for a specific public whose requirements, in their view, were not met but even abrogated by what Serra had done so well: made a Serra.

      The issues raised by this particular controversy as well as by the very different response now accorded the once-controversial Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Maya Lin, together with firsthand frustration with the selection process for public commissions, were some of the specific reasons for organizing the day-long symposium held 16 September 1989 in First Chicago Center under the auspices of Sculpture Chicago, a biennial exhibition and educational series.

      John Hallmark Neff, director of the First National Bank of Chicago’s art program, is a former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. He is the author of Anselm Kiefer: Brüch und Einung (1988), and he is currently working on a book on Max Neuhaus and a catalogue essay for the forthcoming Agnes Denes retrospective exhibition.

    • 860Michael North
    • The most notable development in public sculpture of the last thirty years has been the disappearance of the sculpture itself. Ever since Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New York destroyed itself at the Museum of Modern Art in 1960, sculptors have tried to find new ways to make the sculptural object invisible, immaterial, or remote. Where the sculpture did have some material presence, it often took unexpected forms. As Rosalind Krauss says, “Rather surprising things have come to be called sculpture: narrow corridors with TV monitors at the ends; large photographs documenting country hikes; mirrors placed at strange angles in ordinary rooms; temporary lines cut into the floor of the desert.”

      However various these experiments may seem, they began with a single motive: to escape the constraints of the pedestal, the gallery, and finally of art itself. To prevent this new work from becoming just another commodity in the market, artists either produced works so intangible or remote they could not be bought and sold, or disseminated their ideas in so many reproducible forms they could not be monopolized. The political nature of these motives also meant that much of this “sculpture” could be considered “public.” Changing the nature of the art meant changing the role of the audience as well, questioning the purely contemplative role the observer plays in the conventional setting of the museum or gallery. According to Henry Sayre, “As the avant-garde work of art denies its own autonomy, it implicates the audience in its workings.”3 As the aesthetic focus shifts from the object to the experience it provokes, the relationship of the two goes beyond mere implication: the public becomes the sculpture. Artists, like Richard Serra, whose goal is to illuminate the material nature of space and the often tenuous materiality of the observer’s own body, have made “the viewer, in effect, the subject of the work,” to quote Douglas Crimp.

      See also:

      Michael North is associate professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of The Final Sculpture: Public Monuments and Modern Poets (1985) and is currently completing a study of the politics of Yeats, Eliot, and Pound.

    • 880W. J. T. Mitchell
    • The question naturally arises: Is public art inherently violent, or is it a provocation to violence? Is violence built into the monument in its very conception? Or is violence simply an accident that befalls some monuments, a matter of the fortunes of history? The historical record suggests that if violence is simply an accident that happens to public art, it is one that is always waiting to happen. The principal media and materials of public art are stone and metal sculpture not so much by choice as by necessity. “A public sculpture,” says Lawrence Alloway, “should be invulnerable or inaccessible. It should have the material strength to resist attack or be easily cleanable, but it also needs a formal structure that is not wrecked by alterations.”12 The violence that surrounds public art is more, however, than simply the ever-present possibility of an accident—the natural disaster or random act of vandalism. Much of the world’s public art—memorials, monuments, triumphal arches, obelisks, columns, and statues—has a rather direct reference to violence in the form of war or conquest. From Ozymandias to Caesar to Napoleon to Hitler, public art has served as a kind of monumentalizing of violence, and never more powerfully than when it presents the conqueror as a man of peace, imposing a Napoleonic code or a pax Romana on the world. Public sculpture that is too frank or explicit about this monumentalizing of violence, whether the Assyrian palace reliefs of the ninth century b.c., or Morris’s bomb sculpture proposal of 1981, is likely to offend the sensibilities of a public committed to the repression of its own complicity in violence.13 The very notion of public art as we receive it is inseparable from what Jürgen Habermas has called “the liberal model of the public sphere,” a dimension distinct from the economic, the private, and the political. This ideal realm provides the space in which disinterested citizens may contemplate a transparent emblem of their own inclusiveness and solidarity, and deliberate on the general good, free of coercion, violence, or private interests.14

      See also: W. J. T. Mitchell, Image, Space, Revolution: The Arts of Occupation

      12. Lawrence Alloway, “The Public Sculpture Problem,” Studio International 184 (Oct. 1972): 124.

      13. See Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit, “The Forms of Violence,” October, no. 8 (Spring 1979): 17-29, for an important critique of the “narrativization” of violence in Western art and an examination of the alternative suggested by the Assyrian palace reliefs.

      14. Habermas first introduced this concept in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, Mass., 1989). First published in 1962, it has since become the focus of an extensive literature. See also Habermas’s short encyclopedia article, “The Public Sphere,” trans. Sara Lennox and Frank Lennox, New German Critique 1 (Fall 1974): 49-55, and the introduction to it by Peter Hohendahl in the same issue, pp. 45-48. I owe much to the guidance of Miriam Hansen and Lauren Berlant on this complex and crucial topic.


      W. J. T. Mitchell, editor of Critical Inquiry, is Gaylord Donnelly Distinguished Service Professor of English and art at the University of Chicago. His recent book is Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (1986).

    • 900Vito Acconci
    • 2

      Public space is an old habit. The words public space are deceptive; when I hear the words, when I say the words, I’m forced to have an image of a physical place I can point to and be in. I should be thinking only of a condition; but, instead, I imagine an architectural type, and I think of a piazza, or a town square, or a city commons. Public space, I assume, without thinking about it, is a place where the public gathers. The public gathers in two kinds of spaces. The first is a space that is public, a place where the public gathers because it has a right to the place; the second is a space that is made public, a place where the public gathers precisely because it doesn’t have the right—a place made public by force.


      In the space that is public, the public whose space this is has agreed to be a public; these are people “in the form of the city,” they are public when they act “in the name of the city.” They “own” the city only in quotes. The establishment of certain space in the city as “public” is a reminder, a warning, that the rest of the city isn’t public. New York doesn’t belong to us, and neither does Paris, and neither does Des Moines. Setting up a public space means setting aside a public space. Public space is a place in the middle of the city but isolated from the city. Public space is the piazza, an open space separated from the closure of alleys and dead ends; public space is the piazza, a space in the light, away from the plots and conspiracies in dark smokey rooms.

      See also: Andrea Mubi Brighenti,The Public and the Common: Some Approximations of Their Contemporary Articulation


      Vito Acconci’s latest show, entitled “Public Places,” was held in 1988 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He is currently at work on a park in Detroit, a pedestrian mall in Baltimore, and a housing project in Regensburg, Germany.

    • 919Agnes Denes
    • The issues touched on in my work range between individual creation and social consciousness. We have entered an age of alienation brought on by specialization, a by-product of the Information Age. This is an age of complexity, when knowledge and ideas are coming in faster than can be assimilated, while disciplines become progressively alienated from each other through specialization. The hard-won knowledge that accumulates undigested, blocking meaningful communication. Clearly defined direction for mankind is lacking. The turn of the century and the next millennium will usher in a troubled environment and a troubled psyche.

      Making art today is synonymous with assuming responsibility for our fellow man. I am concerned with the fact that we have taken evolution into our own hands. We are the first species that has the ability to consciously alter its evolution, modify itself at will, even put an end to its existence. We have gotten hold of our destiny and our impact on earth is astounding. Because of our tremendous success we are overrunning the planet, squandering its resources. We are young as a species, even younger as a civilization, and like reckless children initiate processes we cannot control. We tend to overproduce, overuse, and quickly tire of things. We also overreact, panic, and self-correct in hindsight. The pluralistic nature of things creates too many variables, confusing the goals to be achieved. Sustained interest and effective action are diminished with the alienation of the individual who feels little potential to interact or identify effectively with society as a whole. Overview for mankind is lacking and as the momentum increases human values tend to decline.


      Agnes Denes has had over 250 solo and group exhibitions on four continents since 1965. She has participated in such major international exhibitions as Project ’74, Cologne; the 1976 Biennale of Sydney, Australia; Documenta 6 in Kassel, Germany; and the Venice Biennales of 1978 and 1980. In 1989, she received her fourth National Endowment Individual Artist Fellowship. She has published four books, including The Book of Dust—The Beginning and the End of Time and Thereafter (1986).

    • 941Ben Nicholson
    • The urban poise is dependent on a particular notion of urban planning: a myriad of actions that can adjust civic life in many places to provoke it towards greater self-esteem. Urban planning is not consecrated by a drawing in the shape of a plan alone, but it must respect the elevation of the stance of an urban spectacle as seen from the sidewalk. The coercion of civic indicators is reappraised by delighting in the figurative stance of the informant city. Small things are done in the city within its existing urban structure so that an edge is applied to what already exists. City blocks might be fractionally altered, holes in the skyline reamed out smooth, and points located strategically so that they can carry their attendant responsibilities. The method is marginally parasitic, for it exists by requiring something else to exist that it cannot readily harbor.

      Ten points and places of vulnerability have been chosen in the city that poke at its underbelly. Whilst the poises are given names and specific sites, their viability could be felt equally in a different city using changed names. The Appliance House franchises its intention to various matters of civic consequence, ranging from the weather to shopping to the monumental respect for the dead. Each poise is considered integrally related to the wholeness of the city. If any of the Poises becomes disassociated from the city or from other Poises, the prime tenet of urban existence will have been ignored: the over-exertion of one component of urban life will take place at the expense of somebody else.

      See also: Jeffrey T. Schnapp, The Romance of Caffeine and Aluminum

      Ben Nicholson is studio professor of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. His Appliance House will be published later this year.