Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 1991

Volume 17 Issue 4
    • 667Vicki Mahafffey
    • Much has been written over the last decade on the urgency of expanding the canon, although the imperialist overtones of such a movement (which itself rallied under an anti-imperialist banner resisting the hegemony of white, male, Western writers) have not always been registered. A great deal of attention has pooled at the borders of the canon, as we aim to erode or extend those borders, but crucial assumptions about the privileged status of the subject matter that we as critics choose, whatever that subject matter may be, canonical or extracanonical, have not been questioned with comparable intensity. Although the hegemony of the subject and the concomitant transformation of the “other” into an object have been attacked theoretically from several different directions (deconstructive, feminist, Marxist), we nevertheless lack a widespread practical, professional awareness of the extent to which the status of what we “criticize” and teach silently reproduces a subject/object economy of privilege. In the pages that follow, my contribution to the case against the sacralized status of art (a case that several avant-garde modernist writers committed themselves to building) emerges out of the implicit dialogue that Paul Wunderlich initiates with James Joyce on the “subjects” of sexism, anti-Semitism, art, and politics, set against the background of the Holocaust. My target is neither Wunderlich nor Joyce—nor is it any of the groups that they might be said to represent—but the political implications of artistic privilege, a priveilege that criticism, even “resistant” criticism, may seek to redistribute but not to challenge. My aim is not to desecrate Joyce’s authority nor to objectify him (from a subjective elevation of my own) as a stereotypical sexist or anti-Semite, but to deauthorize and rehumanize his monumental status by recontextualizing the grounds of his achievement, climbing down to (where all the ladders start,” the “foul rag-and-bone shop” of vulnerability.

      See also: Charles Altieri, An Idea and Ideal of a Literary Canon  ·  Hazard Adams, Canons: Literary Criteria/Power Criteria

      Vicki Mahaffey, associate professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of Reauthorizing Joyce (1988). She is currently working on a book about the politics of representation.

    • 693Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar
    • We’d like to do a little hypnosis on you. Imagine that you’re ensconced in your own family room, your study, or your queen-sized bed. Settling back, you pick up the remote, flick on the TV, and naturally you turn to PBS. This is what you hear:

      Host 1: Good evening. Welcome to Masterpiece Theatre. Because Alistair Cooke is away on assignment in Alaska, we’ve agreed to host the show tonight, and that’s both a pleasure and a privilege because our program this evening marks the beginning of a fascinating new series, a first on television: Masterpiece Theatre will present you with a docudrama entitled “Masterpiece Theatre.”

      Host 2: Like “The First Churchills,” this show analyzes the situation of real-life people—tonight, people in the academy. Names have not been changed to protect either the innocent or the guilty, but all the situations are fictive and at times words that may never have been spoken are put into the mouths of people who did not speak them. Other lines, however, are direct quotations from various written sources, although none of the characters, as we depict them, should be confused with any “actual” persons, whether or not those persons would scribe to the idea of their own reality. Like “Upstairs/Downstairs,” this program will introduce you to a spectrum of characters from many walks of life. What’s different about tonight’s episode, though, is that all these characters have passionate opinions about the show itself. Why, the very idea of Masterpiece Theatre drives some of them to Guerrilla Theatre, others to Theatre of the Absurd. Yes, you’ve always already guessed it: we focus tonight on a drama involving what we used to call humanists—now for some a dirty word—and most of our characters are in deep trouble.

      See also: Sandra M. Gilbert, Life's Empty Pack: Notes toward a Literary Daughteronomy  ·  Sandra M. Gilbert, Widow

      Sandra M. Gilbert, professor of English at the University of California, Davis, and Susan Gubar, professor of English at Indiana University, are coauthors of No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, Volume 1: The War of the Words (1987) and Volume II: Sexchanges (1988), the first installments of a three-part sequel to their Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (1979). They have also coedited The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English (1985).

    • 718Marie-Hélène Huet
    • The monster and the woman thus find themselves on the same side, the side of dissimilarity. “The female is as it were a deformed male,” added Aristotle (GA, p. 175). As she belongs to the category of the different, the female can only contribute more figures of dissimilarities, if not creatures even more monstrous. But the female is a necessary departure from the norm, a useful monstrosity. The monster is gratuitous and useless for future generations. Aristotle’s seminal work on the generation of monsters posited a rigorously physical definition that was not necessarily linked to deformities: “Monstrosities,” he wrote, “come under the class of offspring which is unlike its parents” (GA, p. 425). Further, while a “monstrosity, of course, belongs to the class of ‘things contrary to Nature,’ … it is contrary not to Nature in her entirety but only to Nature in the generality of cases” (GA, p. 425).

      The monster, defined repeatedly by its lack of resemblance to its legitimate parents, is also monstrous in another important way, one that Aristotle described as a false resemblance to different species: “People say that the offspring which is formed has the head of a ram or an ox; and similarly with other creatures, that one has the head of another.… at the same time, in no case are they what they are alleged to be, but resemblances only” (GA, pp. 417-19; emphasis added). The monster is thus a double imposture. Its strange appearance—a misleading likeness to another species, for example—belies the otherwise rigorous law that children should resemble their parents. Further, monsters offer striking similarities to categories to which they are not related, blurring the differences between genres, and disrupting the rigorous order of nature. Thus, if the monster were defined in the first place as that which did not resemble him who engendered it, it nevertheless displayed some sort of resemblance, albeit a false resemblance to an object external to its conception.

      See also: James A. W. Heffernan, Looking at the Monster: "Frankenstein" and Film

      Marie-Hélène Huet is William R. Kenan Professor of Romance Languages at Amherst College. She is the author of Rehearsing the Revolution: The Staging of Marat’s Death, 1793-1797 (1982) and is currently completing a book on literature and tetratology.

    • 738James Chandler, Arnold I. Davidson, and Harry Harootunian
    • We think the present moment is a timely one for debating the relation between evidentiary protocols and academic disciplines. Since academic practices for constituting and deploying evidence tend to be discipline-specific, the much-discussed crisis of the disciplines in recent years (the so-called blurring of the disciplinary genres) has given rise to a series of controversies about the status of evidence in current modes of investigation and argument: deconstruction, gender studies, new historicism, cultural studies, new approaches to the history and philosophy of science, the critical legal studies movement, and so on. Unfortunately, these controversies too often devolve into oversimplified debates about who has the evidence and who does not, who did their homework and who did not, or about the dangers of an ill-defined academic relativism. Attention needs to be better and otherwise directed: at the configuration of the fact-evidence distinction in different disciplines and historical moments, for example; or at the relative function of such notions as “self-evidence,” “experience,” “test,” “testimony,” and “textuality” in various academic discourses; or at the ways in which the invoked “rules of evidence” are themselves the products of historical developments, and themselves undergo redifferentiation and reformulation.

      James Chandler, professor of English at the University of Chicago, is the author of Wordsworth’s Second Nature (1984). He is currently completing England in 1819, studies in and of romantic case history. Arnold I. Davidson, executive editor of Critical Inquiry, teaches philosophy and the history of science at the University of Chicago. He is currently working on the history of horror as it relates to the epistemology of norms and deviations and is editing a collection of essays on Heidegger, philosophy, and National Socialism. Harry Harootunian, a coeditor of Critical Inquiry and professor of history and East Asian languages and civilizations at the University of Chicago, is the author of Things Seen and Unseen: Discourse and Ideology in Tokigawa (1988) and editor, with Masao Miyoshi, of Postmodernism and Japan (1989).

    • 741Terry Castle
    • The question of the so-called collective hallucination (as it has come to be known to psychical researchers) is neither as arcane nor as irrelevant to everyday life as it might first appear. On the contrary, it illuminates a much larger philosophical issue. In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, his 1921 book devoted to the relationship between individual and group psychology, Sigmund Freud lamented that there was still “no explanation of the nature of suggestion, that is, of the conditions under which influence without adequate logical foundation takes place.”2 What the science of psychology lacked, in other words, was an understanding of ideological transference—the process by which one individual imposed his or her beliefs and convictions on another. How did an idea spread, so to speak, from one person to the next, resulting in the formation of a group consciousness? The phenomenon of the collective hallucination puts the issue starkly—if ambiguously—in relief. If a ghost or apparition can be said to represent, in Freud’s terms, an idea “without adequate logical foundation,” a delusion, then the process by which two people convince each other that they have seen one—and in turn attempt to convince others—might be taken to epitomize the formation of ideology itself.

      In what follows I shall examine a case of collective hallucination—certainly the most notorious and well documented in the annals of modern psychical research—precisely as a way of spotlighting this larger problem. My goal in so doing is not so much to expose the folly of people who claim to see ghosts (though the notion of folly will play a crucial part in what I have to say) but the difficulty that inevitably besets anyone who attempts to debunk such claims on supposedly rationalist grounds. For in the absence of any satisfying explanation of how such “folly” spreads—how a private delusion becomes a folie à deux (or trois or quatre)—the labors of the skeptic are doomed to result only in a peculiar rhetorical and epistemological impasse.

      · 2. Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, trans. and ed. James Strachey (New York, 1959), p. 22.

      See also: Terry Castle, Phantasmagoria: Spectral Technology and the Metaphorics of Modern Reverie

      Terry Castle is professor of English at Stanford University and the author of Masquerade and Civilization: The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century English Culture and Fiction (1986). She is currently working on a new study entitled Lesbians and Other Ghosts: Essays on Literature and Sexuality.

    • 773Joan W. Scott
    • There is a section in Samuel Delany’s magnificent autobiographical meditation, The Motion of Light in Water, that dramatically raises the problem of writing the history of difference, the history, that is, of the designation of “other,” of the attribution of characteristics that distinguish categories of people from some presumed (and usually unstated) norm.1 Delany (a gay man, a black man, a writer of science fiction) recounts his reaction to his first visit to the St. Marks bathhouse in 1963. He remembers standing on the threshold of a “gym-sized room” dimly lit by blue bulbs.

      The room was full of people, some standing, the rest an undulating mass of naked, male bodies, spread wall to wall. My first response was a kind of heart-thudding astonishment very close to fear. I have written of a space at certain libidinal saturation before. That was not what frightened me. It was rather that the saturation was not only kinesthetic but visible.2

      Watching the scene establishes for Delany a “fact that flew in the face” of the prevailing representation of homosexuals in the 1950s as “isolated perverts,” as subjects “gone awry.” The “apprehension of massed bodies” gave him (as it does, he argues, anyone, “male, female, working or middle class”) a “sense of political power”:

      what this experience said was that there was a population—not of individual homosexuals … not of hundreds, not of thousands, but rather of millions of gay men, and that history had, actively and already, created for us whole galleries of institutions, good and bad, to accommodate our sex. [M, p. 174]

      · 2. Samuel R. Delany, The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957-1965 (New York, 1988), p. 173; hereafter abbreviated M.

      See also: Joan W. Scott, Fantasy Echo: History and the Construction of Identity  ·  Ronald Radano, Denoting Difference: The Writing of the Slave Spirituals

      Joan W. Scott is professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. She is the author, most recently, of Gender and the Politics of History (1988) and is currently at work on a history of feminist claims for political rights in France during the period 1789-1945 as a way of exploring arguments about equality and difference.

    • 798Mark Kelman
    • Questions of how we claim to know the things that we know and whose claims to knowledge are treated as authoritative are inescapable in reaching legal judgments. I want to illustrate this generalization by referring to a pair of hypothetical self-defense cases that, I argue, require fact finders to judge both how “accurately” each defendant understood the situation in which he found himself and how accurately policymakers can assess the consequences of alternative legal rules.

      The first case I will deal with is one in which the defendant shoots and kills her sleeping husband. The husband had physically abused her over a long period. While the defendant will of course acknowledge that she was in no immediate danger at the moment she killed the man, her preliminary claim (we will explore variations as well) is that she needed to act self-defensively at that moment for fear that she subsequently would be incapable of defending herself against life-threatening attacks that she was convinced would inevitably be made.

      The second case is one in which a white defendant shoots and kills a black teenager who has confronted him on the subway, in a situation in which the teenager’s “threats” were ambiguous. The shooting victim had brandished no weapon and made no physical contact with the defendant, but he had “asked” the defendant for money and, in the defendant’s mind, displayed a generally threatening demeanor. I will presuppose that this defendant—unlike Bernhard Goetz, the defendant in the notorious New York subway vigilante case on which I partly base this hypothetical model—overtly acknowledges that the race of the victim played a substantial role in his assessment of the danger of the situation. (It is important to note as well that the defendant in my model shoots the victim only once and does not shoot while his victim is retreating from the scene, as Goetz almost surely did.)

      See also: Shoshana Felman, Forms of Judicial Blindness, or the Evidence of What Cannot Be Seen: Traumatic Narratives and Legal Repetitions in the O. J. Simpson Case and in Tolstoy's "The Kreutzer Sonata"

      Mark Kelman, professor of law at Stanford University, is the author of A Guide to Critical Legal Studies (1987) as well as a number of articles on law and economics, taxation, criminal law, and legal theory.

    • 818Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
    • There seems to be something self-evident—irresistibly so, to judge from its gleeful propagation—about the use of the phrase, “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl,” as the Q.E.D. of phobic narratives about the degeneracy of academic discourse in the humanities. But what? The narrative link between masturbation itself and degeneracy, though a staple of pre-1920s medical and racial science, no longer has any respectable currency. To the contrary: modern views of masturbation tend to place it firmly in the framework of optimistic, hygienic narratives of all-too-normative individual development. When Jane E. Brody, in a recent “Personal Health” column in the NewYork Times, reassures her readers that, according to experts, it is actually entirely possible for people to be healthy without masturbating; “that the practice is not essential to normal development and that no one who thinks it is wrong or sinful should feel he or she must try it”; and that even “’those who have not masturbated … can have perfectly normal sex lives as adults,’” the all but perfectly normal Victorianist may be forgiven for feeling just a little—out of breath.3 In this altered context, the self-evidence of a polemical link between autoeroticism and narratives of wholesale degeneracy (or, in one journalist’s historically redolent term, “idiocy”)4 draws on a very widely discredited body of psychiatric and eugenic expertise whose only direct historical continuity with late twentieth-century thought has been routed straight through the rhetoric and practice of fascism. But it now draws on this body of expertise under the more acceptable gloss of the modern, trivializing, hygienic-developmental discourse, according to which autoeroticism not only is funny—any sexuality of any power is likely to hover near the threshold of hilarity—but also must be relegated to the inarticulable space of (a barely superceded) infantility.

      · 3. Jane E. Brody, “Personal Health,” New York Times, 4 Nov. 1987.

      · 4. Rosenblatt, “The Universities,” p. 3.

      See also: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Tide and Trust  ·   Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Sexualism and the Citizen of the World: Wycherley, Sterne, and Male Homosocial Desire

      Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick is professor of English at Duke University and the author of Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985) and Epistemology of the Closet (1990).

    • 838Ian Hacking
    • Bernice R. broke down so badly, when she turned nineteen, and behaved so much like a retarded child that she was committed to the Ohio State Bureau of Juvenile Research. Its director, Henry Herbert Goddard, a psychologist of some distinction, recognized that she suffered from multiple personality disorder. She underwent a course of treatment lasting nearly five years, after which “the dissociation seems to be overcome and replaced by a complete synthesis. [She] is working regularly a half day and seems reasonably happy in her reactions to her environment.”1 Therapy enabled her core personality and her main alter to make contact with each other, and for her to understand her past and, to some extent, why she had split.

      Her story prompts questions about evidence, objectivity, historical truth, psychological reality, self-knowledge, and the soul. It involves that powerful intersection of morality and metaphysics: why is it of value to have a self-understanding founded on true beliefs about ourselves and our past, or at any rate on memories that are not strictly false? To what extent is such self=knowledge based on evidence? To what extent is it knowledge at all?

      See also: Ian Hacking, Our Neo‐Cartesian Bodies in Parts  ·  Ian Hacking, The Suicide Weapon

      Ian Hacking, a philosopher, teaches at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology in the University of Toronto, and he is the author of Taming Chance (1990). His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry is “The Making and Molding of Child Abuse” (Winter 1991).

    • 868Charles Bernheimer
    • In his article “Storied Bodies, or Nana at Last Unveil’d” (Critical Inquiry 16 [Autumn 1989]: 1-32), Peter Brooks makes the claim that, for a certain dominant mode of nineteenth-century narrative, the female sexual organ is the occult source of the narrative dynamic. On a superficial reading, Brooks’s piece might appear to empower women by putting their sexuality at the generative origin of the story. But the opposite is the case: his argument reflects rather than critiques the misogynist strategies of the texts he discusses. I will begin my analysis of his article with a brief return to the story by Barbey d’Aurevilly whose climactic scene Brooks offers as “a kind of allegory of the cultural story [he has] been delineating” (p. 29).

      Charles Bernheimer is professor of romance languages and chair of the program in comparative literature and literary theory at the University of Pennsylvania. The author of Flaubert and Kafka (1982) and Figures of Ill Repute (1989), he is currently working on a study of fin-de-siècle literature and art, The Decadent Subject.

    • 875Peter Brooks
    • I suppose I should be grateful to Charles Bernheimer for setting me back on the path of righteousness from which I appear to have so grievously strayed. But I think Bernheimer and I are in deep disagreement about the purposes of literary criticism, and this may make me, in his perspective, a hopeless case. Bernheimer reads my article, “Storied Bodies, or Nana at Last Unveil’d,” as intending “to empower women by putting their sexuality at the generative origin of story” (p. 868). He ascribes to me the motive of “offering feminists a gift” (p. 873). He even suggests, in a particularly offensive move: “This offer, I would guess, provides the generative energy for Brooks’s critical story” (p. 873). I can do without such attributions of motive. My intent, far less ambitious, was to describe some attitudes toward the nude female body that I found in novels and paintings of the later nineteenth century. I don’t believe that criticism need be harnessed to the “empowerment” of anyone in particular, nor that it need denounce what Bernheimer identifies as “patriarchal oppression” (p. 874), “misogynist strategies” (p. 868), and the “hegemonic privileges” (p. 873) of the male gaze everywhere they are to be found (and they are to be found pretty much everywhere in the Western tradition). Does criticism really need to burden itself with this litany of clichés? Do they tell us anything new?

      Peter Brooks is Tripp Professor of Humanities and director of the Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University. He is nearing completion of a book tentatively entitled Storied Bodies.