Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 1993

Volume 19 Issue 4
    • 607Donald Davidson
    • What am I doing here? What is the point of the quotations from my work in these mysteriously explosive pictures by Robert Morris, made with his eyes closed? This is not the first time I have found my writing in unexpected surroundings. Nothing has surprised me more than to discover myself anthologized in books with titles such as Post-Analytic Philosophy or After Philosophy. That after haunts me again from an about-to-be-published book with the title Literary Theory after Davidson. Is there something sinister, or at least fin de siècle, in my views that I have failed to recognize, something that portends the dissolution not only of the sort of philosophy I do but of philosophy itself? Why else would I find my name linked with Heidegger and Derrida?1

      The answer to some of these questions may turn on my rejection of subjectivist theories of epistemology and meaning, and my conviction that subjectivist theories of epistemology and meaning, and my conviction that thought itself is essentially social; but I have no idea whether it is this that has prompted Morris to use my work. Since I do not know what his reasons were, let me say what strikes me in the result.

      · 1. “What am I doing here?” I find, not very surprisingly, that I am not the first to ask this question.l It’s the title of a book by Bruce Chatwin (New York, 1989), and Jean Genet asks himself, “What am I doing here?” when living among the Palestinians. See Jean Genet, Prisoner of Love, trans. Barbara Bray (Hanover, N.H., 1992).

                  For the other books mentioned: Post-Analytic Philosophy, ed. John Rajchman and Cornel West (New York, 1985); After Philosophy: End or Transformation, ed. Kenneth Baynes, James Bohman, and Thomas McCarthy (Cambridge, Mass., 1987); and Literary Theory after Davidson, ed. Reed Way Dasenbrock (forthcoming). For Heidegger, see Dorothea Frede, “Beyond Realism and Anti-Realism: Rorty on Heidegger and Davidson,” Review of Metaphysics 40 (June 1987): 733-57; for Derrida, see Samuel Wheeler, “Indeterminacy of French Interpretation: Derrida and Davidson,” in Truth and Interpretation, ed. Ernest Lepore (London, 1986) and David Novitz, “Metaphor, Derrida, and Davidson,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 44 (Winter 1985): 101-14.

      See also: Donald Davidson, What Metaphors Mean

      Donald Davidson is Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. His forthcoming book is entitled The Concept of Truth.

    • 617Robert Morris
    • Would Morris say that Davidson’s descriptions of intentions, actions, events, reasons and causes, desires and beliefs, filled a certain conceptual void that hovered about the making of the Blind Time Drawings? Did he have a desire to fill that conceptual absence that accompanied the visual darkness? Did Davidson’s writing illuminate Morris’s otherwise blind working space? Or did groping around blind and smearing the page with ink on the hands constitute an act so informed by irrational desires for escape and regression that Morris sought out the linguistic sophistication of Davidson’s writing to clean up his act, so to speak?3 The answer to all these questions could be affirmative and still not be the reasons they were used.

      3. The very practice of excerpting (this act of cutting up) from writings such as Davidson’s, writings possessed not only of a deep conceptual power and stylistic grace but of a supple wholeness and clarity, raises questions of a somewhat different order. But if such questions are suppressed here by remaining unarticulated—the very suggestion of their existence buried in an oblique footnote devoted to Morris commenting on Morris writing on Morris—they are nevertheless typical of those Morris raises throughout: if announced, seldom articulated; if articulated, seldom followed up; if followed up, seldom answered.

      See also: Robert Moris, Blind Time VI, Moral Blinds, Moral Limit  ·  Robert Morris, Professional Rules

      Robert Morris’s artwork will spear in a major retrospective exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in early 1994. His collected essays, Continuous Project, Altered Daily, will also appear in 1994. His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry was “Words and Images in Modernism and Postmodernism” (Winter 1989).

    • 628Caroline A. Jones
    • This essay concerns just what it was that John Cage helped finish in the late 1940s and early 1950s and what kinds of spaces he cleared before he became the peaceful patron saint of our avant-garde heaven.3 My observations here allude to much larger stories that can only be told elsewhere—stories about the ending of Europe, the death of fathers, the making of Americans.4 Norman O. Brown quoted Cage when he wrote that “we know all we need to know about Oedipus, Prometheus, Hamlet”; but, wisely, he preceded this by observing that “Cage in 1959 is not the same as Cage in 1974.”5 For my own essay (begun on the occasion of Cage’s eightieth birthday and finished shortly after his dead), I want to return to that earlier time lest we forget Oedipus, Prometheus, and Hamlet. Americans in their making have rarely forgotten those fierce sons or failed to emulate them in their struggles to carve a culture from within the colonial outpost of an aging empire.

      · 3. Or, as Paul Griffiths would have it, “the apostle of indeterminacy” (Paul Griffiths, Cage [Oxford, 1981], p. 1; hereafter abbreviated C).

      · 4. “The making of Americans” is, of course, Gertrude Stein’s phrase, and it was used by the organizers of the John Cage at Stanford conference for the title of the panel in which a version of this paper was originally presented. The linkage of Stein and Cage as avant-garde modernists was the conscious and approved significance of this reference; my thesis, which suggests covert linkages at the deeper level of a resistant gay/lesbian aesthetic, proved more problematic to the conference of organizers and participants. I take this problematic as my problematic: how an absence or negativity can function to convey meaning in cultural texts.

      · 5. Norman O. Brown, “John Cage,” in John Cage at Seventy-Five, ed. Richard Fleming and William Duckworth (Lewisburg, Pa., 1989), pp. 105, 104.

      See also: Caroline A. Jones, The Modernist Paradigm: The Artworld and Thomas Kuhn

      Caroline A. Jones is assistant professor in art history at Boston University where she teaches recent art and theory. Her books include Modern Art at Harvard (1985), Bay Area Figureative Art 1950-1965 (1988), and Machine in the Studio (forthcoming).

    • 666Kristin Ross
    • The first of the three general problems I want to address is the problem of expertise, or specialization, or the reluctance of many faculty to depart from their specialized fields. As we all are aware, laziness is often used to mask political opposition, and the aura of specialization is used to block change. Each of the faculty in our group had been engaged for some time—and continues to be so—with working systematically to increase the number of ethnic faculty and faculty whose field of expertise is in underrepresented cultures. But as we all know, this is too often a slow process, especially in periods of economic recession and especially given the well-known tendency in universities for departments and faculty to reproduce themselves when it comes to new hiring. The name, then, of this first general problem might be “Teaching What You Don’t Know.”

      In the initial stages of getting our programs going, during a discussion about the presence of South African literature in our curriculum, we met with a form of opposition best exemplified by a remark made my one of our colleagues: “But I don’t have a Ph.D. in South African literature.” Now, my colleague was not, I think, simply admitting to laziness (though ultimately he was); he was not merely saying, “I’m very busy keeping up with my own field; I don’t have time to read anything new.”He was also using a more effective dodge: false modesty. I believe what he was saying was this: “I am not an expert; I couldn’t do South African literature justice.” Well, we replied, there is in the world at this historical moment no Ph.D. program in South African literature. Does this mean that South African literature should never be taught? Or that it shouldn’t be taught until properly accredited graduate programs exist to train people in South African literature and to grant them Ph.D.s in the field? Or until a number of such Ph.D.s exist, a position becomes available at Santa Cruz, and we can all agree that a South Africanist is our first priority?

      See also: Kristin Ross, The Paris Commune and the Literature of the North  ·  Kristin Ross, Establishing Consensus: May ’68 in France as Seen from the 1980s

      Kristin Ross is professor of world literature and cultural studies at University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune (1988) and a forthcoming book on commodities and culture in postwar France.

    • 677Myra Jehlen
    • The description of one’s current writing as “work in progress” can be a little depressing. One reason lies in the evocation of the mountain still to climb, of course, but another, more subversive reason is that the notion of progress seems mockingly inaccurate to describe the experience of writing, which is seldom so anticipatory. Typically, one proceeds by retreating, first from the ignorant certainty that generates a hypothesis, then to a better informed agnosticism until, if all goes well, in an ecstasy interrogation, one achieves full-blown skepticism. Paranoia is an occupational disease in this profession: there is always a prior plot, some yet-unexposed premise structuring a deceptively self-evident meaning. One advances backward into irony, the goal being finally to pose a basic question that turns over the ground of previous convictions.

      This unsettling dynamic is nowhere more active than in the study of the literature of American colonization, whose subject is origins and the representation of origins. And foundational accounts are the most suspect of all. Accordingly, historians of the 1492 and all that have been approaching the representations of the origins of the New World as utterly unreliable narratives, antiscriptures to be read against. This would appear definitively skeptical, but in dealing only with the content of the imperial narratives, this skepticism leaves their form unquestioned. While suggesting, therefore, that it is possible to disbelieve in ways that formally resemble believing it all, I want to propose one more step back from the conventional certainties of colonial history beyond a different account to a different kind of account.

      See also: Mahmood Mamdani, Settler Colonialism: Then and Now

      Myra Jehlen is Board of Governors Professor of Literature in the English department at Rutgers University. Her publications include American incarnation: The Individual, the Nation, and the Continent (1993), part of the Cambridge Literary History of the United States series.

    • 693Daniel Boyarin and Jonathan Boyarin
    • Group identity has been constructed traditionally in two ways. It has been figured on the one hand as the product of a common genealogical origin and, on the other, as produced by a common geographical origin. The first has a strongly pejorative value in current writing—while the second has become tainted with the name race and thus racism—while the second has a general positive ring. One of the reasons for this split in values is undoubtedly the unfortunate usages to which the term and concept of race in the sense of genotype has been put in Europe since early modern times.2 Another source, however, of our cultural disdain for genealogy as a value is undoubtedly the sustained attack on it that lies at the fountainhead of Christendom, the letters of Paul. In this paper, we would like to interrogate the Pauline sources of Western discourse about generation, space, and identity, along with the rabbinic Jewish counterdiscourse around these terms. We will trace this fault line into the present as well, confronting claims of “pure theory” with our own discourses of critically grounded identity, speaking about paradoxes of individual and collective identity with reference to Jean-François Lyotard, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Walter Benn Michaels.

      · 2. It was not, of course, always used that way. Symptomatic perhaps of this shift is the following statement from Dio Cassius: Ï do not know the origin of this name [Jews], but it is applied to all men, even foreigners, who follow their customs. This race is found among Romans”(quoted in John Gager, The origins of Anti-Semitism: Attitudes toward Judaism in Pagan and Christian Antiquity [New York, 1983], p. 91). We see from this quotation that race once had much suppler and more complex connections with genealogy, cultural praxis, and identity than it has in our parlance.

      See also: Daniel Boyarin, “This We Know to Be the Carnal Israel": Circumcision and the Erotic Life of God and Israel  ·   Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Acting Bits/Identity Talk

      Daniel Boyarin is Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash (1990), Carnal Israel, and A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (both forthcoming). Jonathan Boyarin, an anthropologist, has enjoyed a long association with the new School for Social Research in New York. His books include Polish Jews in Paris: The Ethnography of Memory (1991), Storm from Paradise: The Politics of Jewish Memory (1992), and the forthcoming Palestine and Jewish History. He is also the editor of The Ethnography of Reading (1993).

    • 726Masao Miyoshi
    • Discourse and practice are interdependent. Practice follows discourse, while discourse is generated by practice. As for the discourse on colonialism, there is a long lineage of engagements with the history of colonialism. One recalls papers by practitioners such as John Locke, Edmund Burke, James Mill, and Thomas Macaulay early on, and critiques of the practice by Hobson, Lenin, Luxemburg, and Schumpeter among many others since the height of imperialism. Numerous metropolitan fiction writers are obsessed by the presence of remote colonies from Melville and Flaubert to Conrad and Gide. Actually, hardly any Western writer from Jane Austen to Thomas Mann, from Balzac to D. H. Lawrence could manage to escape from the spell of modern expansionism. The modern West depends on its colonies for self-definition, as Edward Said’s newest book, Culture and Imperialism, argues.1

      1. See Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York, 1993).

      See also: Arif Dirlik, The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism  ·  Sara Suleri, Woman Skin Deep: Feminism and the Postcolonial Condition

      Masao Miyoshi teaches literature at the University of California, San Diego. His most recent books is Off Center: Power and Culture Relations between Japan and the United States (1991). His coedited book, Japan in the World, is forthcoming.

    • 752Peter S. Hawkins
    • Human beings are alone in imagining their own deaths; they are also unique in their need to remember the dead and to keep on imagining them. Central to this act of memory is the name of the deceased, that familiar formula of identity by which a person seems to live on after life itself is over. To forget a name is in effect to allow death to have the last word. For this reason the common impulse of grief is the reiteration of personal names and the titles of relationship; it is to cry out like King David, “My son Absalom; O Absalom, my son, my son” (2 Sam. 19:4-5), as if by the force of repetition it might be possible to conjure up the one who is lost.

      So that voice may not fail, the names are written down. The most dramatic example of this occurred at the end of World War I when the Allied forces decided that every fallen soldier, regardless of rank, should be commemorated individually. Their names were written on regulation-sized gravestones or, when burial was impossible because bodies could neither be found nor identified, incised on enormous monuments designed by leading architects of the day. Sir Edwin Lutyens’s towering arches at Thiepval, built in 1924 as a memorial to those who died at the battle of the Somme, record 73,367 names; on the Menen gate leading out of Ypres there are 54,896.1

      · 1. I am grateful to Thomas Laqueur for letting me see his unpublished essay, “Memory and naming in the Great War.”Vincent Scully gives a vivid account of Lutyens’s memorial as “an enormous monster. The tight circles of its tondi become demonic eyes; its high arch screams. It is the open mouth of death that will consume us all.” (Vincent Scully, “The Terrible Art of Designing a War Memorial,” New York Times, 14 July 1991, p. H28). See also Alan Borg, War Memorials (London, 1991).

      See also: Robert Pogue Harrison, The Names of the Dead

      Peter S. Hawkins is professor of religion and literature at the Yale Divinity School. He is the author of The language of Grace: Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and Iris Murdoch (1983) and Getting Nowhere: Christian Hope and Utopian Dream (1985). He is currently editing two collections of essays and is working on a book on Dante and the Bible.