Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 1995

Volume 21 Issue 4
    • 701W. J. T. Mitchell
    • It would be nice to be able to say that a set of firm, consistent, and rigorous principles have guided us throughout this itinerary, that we have never been guilty of opportunism or an unprincipled pandering to fashion. The truth, however, is a bit more complicated, and more difficult to summarize. The fact is that our editorial principles have been multiple, sometimes, conflicting, often improvised and ad hoc. Our relation to “fashion,” for instance, has been consistently ambivalent. There is no use denying that we have wanted to remain abreast of fashion and, if possible, well in advance of it. At the same time, there has been a consistent determination to remain independent of any particular critical fashion, to air the debates not only within but about the newest critical movements, and to revise earlier debates (on the aims of formalism, the role of intellectuals in Nazi Germany, the foundational moments of disciplines, the impact of Foucault before he has “Foucault”). While we have made clear our solidarity with African American studies, feminism, gender studies, cultural studies, and our respect for the living traditions of critical theory, deconstruction, and Marxist thought, we have also tried to steer clear of becoming the house organ for any approach, method, political/professional agenda or critical movement. When it looked as if this sort of independence might itself be a concealed position, a kind of American neopragmatism and “pluralism,” we put the spotlight on that possibility with a special issue entitled “Pluralism and Its Discontents,” an issue that turned out to be anything but a celebration of liberal “tolerance” and “flexibility.”

      W. J. T. Mitchell has been editor of Critical Inquiry since 1978. His most recent book is Picture Theory (1994).

    • 708Nancy Huston
    • The questions I want to raise … concern maternal ethics and the writing of fiction and nonfiction. (As a friend recently put it, parents wonder how much they can give, whereas artists wonder how much they can take.)

      The “neutral” point of view on the subject of ethics—that is, the one most commonly espoused by white male literary critics in the Western world—can be summed up as follows. Ethics are good for philosophical, theological, political, and pedagogical discourse; they are poison for literature. This point of view was first promulgated in the middle of the nineteenth century (clearly this date is no accident, for it was about that time that God died and authors began aspiring to take His place) by such scandalous geniuses as Baudelaire and Flaubert. Flaubert is an interesting case in point because he developed the idea, among other places, in a lengthy correspondence with George Sand, who was vehemently opposed to it and who happened to be a daughter and a mother. Sand was perhaps the last of the great novelists to believe wholeheartedly in the moral calling of artists—that is, in the idea that they should endeavor to convey value through the content of their books, the elaboration of stories with easily discernible morals, characters embodying good and evil, and so forth. The only way Flaubert was interested in conveying value was through the form of his books: good, for him, was the question for perfection, harmony, precision, concision and balance, whereas evil was leaving things as they were, stagnating in petty bourgeois mediocrity.

      See also: Hazard Adams, Canons: Literary Criteria/Power Criteria

      Nancy Huston has published a dozen books of fiction and nonfiction, as well as two children’s books written in collaboration with her daughter Léa. Her first novel, The Goldberg Variations, won the Prix Contrepoint. Plainsong, the first of her books in English to be published in Canada, won the 1993 Governor General’s Award for Fiction.

    • 722Carol J. Clover
    • So wide is the gap between what Singin’ in the Rain says and what it does that one is tempted to see a relation between the two—to see the moralizing surface story of Singin’ as a guilty disavowal of the practices that went into its own making. Certainly the film itself invites a reflexive reading: the final movie in the sequence of movies it is about, the one that others lead up to and the one advertised on the climactic billboard, is Singin’ in the Rain. Of course this narrow, in-house reading cannot explain the film’s enormous popularity with four decades of viewers who know nothing of the backstage circumstances of its production. But if we proceed from the assumption that was may seem to be local anxieties are often universal ones in neighborhood drag, we might look again at the gap between Singin’ in the Rain’s theory and its practice and ask what the larger resonances are. That is the point of departure of this essay, in which I argue that Singin’ in the Rain’s morality tale of stolen talent restores is driven by a nervousness about just the opposite, about stolen talent unrestored, and that one reason for its abiding popularity is the way it redresses our underlying fear that the talent or art we most enjoy in movies like Singin’ in the Rain is art we somehow “know” to be uncredited and unseen. The question is what talent and who it belongs to.

      See also: Paul Allen Anderson, The World Heard: Casablanca and the Music of War

      Carol J. Clover is professor of rhetoric (film) and Scandinavian (medieval studies) at the University of California, Berkeley. She has published books and articles on medieval culture and is also the author of Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (1992). She is working on a book on Anglo-American trial movies.

    • 748Felicia McCarren
    • This essay argues that in Fuller’s dance the production of meaning on the body closely resembles that of the hysterical symptom, the hysterical conversion of Freud’s definition. Considering dance in the context of what Freud later calls the “symptomatic act,” rather than reducing dance’s expressive potential and the conscious discipline of dance artists, serves both to explain the cultural power of nineteenth-century dance and to widen the cultural understanding of somatic expression. It is an attempt to explain dance’s passionate following, immediate effect, and just as rapid oblivion; to suggest why dance is both so culturally and historically resonant and yet so absent from theoretical discourse. Dance’s fin-de-siècle proximity to forms of mental illness gives it a cultural relevance that has shifted as clinical and theoretical conceptions of mental illness have changed.

      See also:  Michel Serres and Felicia McCarren, The Natural Contract

      Felicia McCarren is assistant professor in the department of French and Italian at Tulane University. She is the author of articles on Mallarmé and Céline and is currently writing a book on dance and hysteria. Her work in modern dance has included the study and performance of early modern repertory.

    • 775Jean Walton
    • … [A]s I will demonstrate, psychoanalytic literature itself reveals that racialized binaries were and continue to be a reality in the world inhabited by Freud’s patients and the patients of other psychoanalysts for as long as the institution has existed. Certainly this is the case for white Americans in a country with a very precise history of a racialized slavery system, of racialized lynching practices, of racialized divisions of labor, indeed, of a racialized history of child care, where the tasks of the “mother” so typically described in psychoanalytic accounts of early development (nursing, cleaning, eroticization of certain zones of the body, assistance in the acquisition of language, mediating in the mirror stage, where the child’s image is misrecognized as his own) were (and continue to be) undertaken by black women in the white slave-owning or servant-employing household. It could be argued that it is just as much the case for Europeans, whose fantasmatic life is permeated by the Orientalist and Africanist ideologies that underwrite and justify what, by the time psychoanalysis was in its nascent stages, had become a long and vexed history of European colonialist expansion and decline. Yet in most psychoanalytic literature, which was concerned almost exclusively with white subjects, racial difference was only an intermittent and peripheral focus of attention. It only came up when, as in the case of Jones’s review of Malinowski, psychoanalysts responded to the way in which their assumptions were borrowed or challenged by anthropologists. Even in these instance, fantasized or perceived racial difference was still not relevant to an understanding of how the white European subject was constructed; “race” functioned rather as a kind of untheorized but characteristic mark of a “primitive” culture that had not as yet been repressed by civilization and its discontents. “Race” was blackness, in other words, and seemed to have nothing to do with the “civilized” white human subject.

      See also: Hortense J. Spillers, “All the Things You Could Be by Now If Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother": Psychoanalysis and Race

      Jean Walton is assistant professor of English and women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island. She is currently writing a book on white women’s fantasies of racial difference in psychoanalysis, film, and fiction.

    • 805Susan Fraiman
    • What is it about Jane Austen that makes headlines? Mansfield Park (1815) takes up relatively little space in the vastness of Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism (1993), yet one reviewer after another has seized on Austen’s novel as emblematic of the cultural tradition Said shows to be inextricable from European colonialism.1 Topping Michael Gorra’s full-page review for the New York Times Book Review, for example, is the eye-catching question, “Who Paid the Bills at Mansfield Park?” Gorra goes on to highlight the discussion of Austen as “one of the best chapters” in Said’s book.2 Irving Howe, in the pages of Dissent, though denying the relevance of colonial Australia to Great Expectations, lingers approvingly over Said’s suggestion that slavery in Antigua is the dark underbelly of Mansfield Park.3 Likewise John Leonard, reviewing Culture and Imperialism for the Nation, begins his analysis of Said’s sequel to Orientalism with a striking image of Austen: “See Jane sit, in the poise and order of Mansfield Park, not much bothering her pretty head about the fact that this harmonious ‘social space,’ Sir Thomas Bertram’s country estate, is sustained by slave labor on his sugar plantations in Antigua.” His next paragraph renders Said on Albert Camus in similar terms, as a character in his own imperialist primer (“watch Al run away”), but by then the device has lost its sting. And while reviewers friendly to Said repeatedly cite Austen as definitive proof of his claims, hostile reviewers invoke her with even greater vehemence as the figure most implausibly tied by Said to imperialist wrong-doings.

      · 1. See Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, ed. Tony Tanner (London, 1966), hereafter abbreviated MP; and Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York, 1993), hereafter abbreviated C.

      · 2. Michael Gorra, “Who Paid the Bills at Mansfield Park?” review of C, in New York Times Book Review, 28 Feb. 1993, p. 11.

      · 3. See Irving Howe, “History and Literature: Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism,” review of C, in Dissent 40 (Fall 1993): 557-59.

      See also: Susan Fraiman, Pussy Panic versus Liking Animals: Tracking Gender in Animal Studies  ·  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl

      Susan Fraiman is associate professor of English at the University of Virginia. She is author of Unbecoming Women: British Women Writers and the Novel of Development (1993). Her current project is a study of feminism and contemporary culture entitled Blonde Ambition.

    • 822James Elkins
    • In what follows I am going to argue against semiotics and propose ways to think about “subsemiotic” marks by attending to their syntactic properties. Semiotics, I think, has several deleterious effects on the ways we understand pictures. Despite its claims to be neutral between linguistic and other sign systems, semiotics slights the meaning of the marks, bringing visual narratives unpleasantly close to written ones (so that without illustrations in the texts, it would sometimes be difficult to tell if a semiotic account were referring to a painting or another text). In the end, semiotics shrinks the notion of what a picture is, assimilating pictures to texts and overlooking their painted strangeness. Semiotics makes pictures too easy; I want pictures to be harder to look at and harder to describe, so that we cannot get as quickly from the slurry of marks to orderly historical meanings.

      See also:  James Elkins, Art History without Theory  ·  Michael Fried, Between Realisms: From Derrida to Manet

      James Elkins is associate professor in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His recent work includes The Poetics of Perspective (1994) and essays on art criticism, the use of schemata in visual art, Nelson Goodman, the place of the unconscious, and ambiguity in pictorial meanings. Another, The Object Stares Back, is forthcoming.

    • 861Tony Bennett
    • In what follows, I shall consider the concern to multiply culture’s utility in the light of the endeavour to make populations self-regulating that was associated with the development of liberal forms of government. By ‘liberal’ here I do not have in mind the philosophical or partisan meaning of the term. Rather, following Michel Foucault, I refer to the development of new forms of social management and regulation which, predicated on the supposition that the citizen possesses a degree of freedom and autonomy (and thus is a citizen and not a subject), aim to ‘govern at a distance’ by creating frameworks in which individuals will voluntarily regulate their own behaviour to achieve specific social ends rather than needing to be subjected to forced direction. My purpose will be to uncover the grid of relations which made it intelligible to suppose that the development of new capillary systems for the distribution of culture would help cultivate a capacity for voluntary self-regulation in the general population.

      See also: Michel Foucault, The Subject and Power

      Tony Bennett teaches in the Faculty of Humanities at Griffith University, where he holds a personal chair in Cultural Studies and is director of the Institute for Cultural Policy Studies. His publications include Formalism and Marxism (1979), Outside Literature (1990), and The Birth of the Museum.