Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 1996

Volume 22 Issue 4
    • 613Mark Rose
    • Johnson v. Calvert is an extraordinarily resonant case. It echoes King Solomon’s famous judgment when confronted with two women who each claimed to be the mother of a child, and it also echoes Athene’s judgment in The Eumenides when she rules that Orestes is not related to his mother Clytaemestra. It raises questions about our understanding of the relationship between nature and technology, and it challenges conventional assumptions about gender and reproduction—how exactly is a woman’s role in reproduction different from a man’s?—and about the nature of kinship. Moreover, like the famous Baby M case in New Jersey a few years earlier,2 it raises questions about whether recent developments in reproductive technology are leading to a new form of the commodification of human beings. As one jurist remarked, the case interrogates “our collective understanding of what it means to be human” (JC, p. 506). What principally interests me in this essay, however, is the significance of the court’s resort to the model of intellectual property law to resolve the conflicting claims and the implicit equation of mothers and authors.

      2. See In the Matter of Baby M, a Pseudonym for an Actual Person, 537 A.2d 1227 (N.J. 1988).

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

      Mark Rose is professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, a position to which he has returned after serving for some years as director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute. He is the author of many books on literary studies including Shakespearean Design (1972) and Alien Encounters: Anatomy of Science Fiction (1981) and has also written widely on issues related to the history of copyright law. His most recent book is Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright (1993), which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award.

    • 634James Tatum
    • The Other Vietnam Memorial is an imaginary monument to imagined victims, conceivable only because it is not designed for the public space that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial occupies. On the Mall itself, the more pretentious the countermemorials to Maya Lin’s work become, the less they seem to achieve. None of the supplementary monuments in Washington or anywhere else is as moving as the simplest message left by a family member or a comrade of the dead at the wall of the memorial.11 The particular achievement of The Other Vietnam Memorial is that it raises questions about the sorrow of this war that could never be answered by any public memorial, anywhere: not on the Mall in Washington, with all its official monuments, nor, as we shall presently see, in any single monument among the innumerable war memorials and war cemeteries of Vietnam.

      The American obsession with the Vietnam War shows no signs of abating any time soon, but is being transformed by an increasing awareness of former enemies. Since Jonathan Shay’s book on combat trauma and the “undoing of character” in American Vietnam veterans, we have learned to think how we might read the story of Achilles in this war and particularly in the character of those veterans who survived it.12 What then of this war’s Priam? What shall we see in his story that parallels our own?

      11. A sample of the vast number of messages and artifacts left at the wall is collected in The Wall: Images and Offerings from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, ed. Sal Lopes (New York, 1987).

      12. See Jonathan Shay, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (New York, 1994).

      See also: Charles L. Griswold and Stephen S. Griswold, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Washington Mall: Philosophical Thoughts on Political Iconography

      James Tatum is Aaron Lawrence Professor of Classics at Dartmouth College and the author of Apuleius and the Golden Ass (1979), Xenophon’s Imperial Fiction (1989), Plautus: The Darker Comedies (1983), and editor of The Search for the Ancient Novel (1994). This essay on the war memorials of Vietnam comes from a project on The Iliad and the imagination of war.

    • 679Daniel Abramson
    • Since the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the reception of Lin’s monuments has been remarkably uniform in tone and content, mostly celebrating them as shrines of conciliation and always emphasizing their formal clarity, visual reflectiveness, and inviting tactility.3 My focus here is somewhat different. What interests me about Lin’s monuments is, first, that they can be seen together as a suite of work representing three defining social phenomena of the 1960s: the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and the women’s movement. Secondly, in all three monuments, Lin chose to represent her subjects graphically in a format unprecedented in monumental commemorative art—that of the pure chronology or time line. What I hope to show through a combination of textual and formal analyses is that Lin’s monuments constitute particular ideological representations of their subject matters. In each monument, divisive and controversial struggle of the 1960s is, by its chronicling in monumental form, sublimated and integrated into American historical consciousness. One result of such an analysis is that the much debated politics of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial—it is pro- or antiwar, or some combination?—can be clarified by understanding the common politics of all three monuments. In the first part of the essay, brief descriptions and histories of the three monuments will being the work of interpretation. In its later parts, the essay discusses how Lin’s work popularized and mutated the formal vocabulary and ideology of 1960s minimalism, how it potentiates a new mode of critical monumentality, and how its graphical experimentation may redeem the monument in the age of information.

      3. For the reception of Lin’s monuments, see notes 8 and 9.

      See also: Michael North, The Public as Sculpture: From Heavenly City to Mass Ornament

      Daniel Abramson is assistant professor of art history and director of architectural studies at Connecticut College. He is writing a book on the Bank of England and its architecture.

    • 710Hortense J. Spillers
    • When I was young and free and used to wear silks1 (and sat in the front pew, left of center, I might add), I used to think that my childhood minister occasionally made the oddest announcement. Whenever any one of our three church choirs was invited to perform at another congregation, our minister, suspecting that several of his members would stay home or do something else that afternoon, having already spent some hours at worship, skillfully anticipated them. Those who were not going with the choir were importuned to “send go.” The injunction always tickled me, as I took considerable pleasure in conjuring up the image of a snaggle-toothed replica of my seven-year-old self going off in my place. But the minister meant “send money,” so pass the collection plate. Decades later, I decided that the “send-go” of my childhood had an equivalent in the semiotic/philosophical discourse as the mark of substitution, the translated inflections of selves beyond the threshold of the fleshed, natural girl. It was not only a delightful but a useful idea to me that one herself need not always turn up. One and one did not always make two but might well yield some indeterminate sum, according to the context in which the arithmetic was carried out, indeed which arithmetic was performed. I have been suggesting that we need to work the double in this discussion.

      1. This sentence alludes to a wonderful collection of short stories by the Barbadian Canadian writer, Austin Clarke, When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks (Toronto, 1971).

      See also: Elizabeth Abel, Black Writing, White Reading: Race and the Politics of Feminist Interpretation

      Hortense J. Spillers is a professor of English at Cornell University. Her forthcoming books are a collection of her essays, entitled Peter’s Pans, and a study of African American women’s community, the problem of gender, and American slavery, In the Flesh: A Situation for Feminist Inquiry.

    • 735Charles Spinosa and Hubert L. Dreyfus
    • In this essay, we attempt to account for the effectiveness of Derrida’s complicated argument by showing how it builds on many of the intuitions that also support Wittgenstein’s arguments against essentialism.5 We then show how this form of antiessentialist argument provides good reasons for criticizing nonessentialist arguments that remain within the essentialist telos. Consequently, if this is the only valid form of antiessentialism, then those of us with antiessentialist intuitions must remain imprisoned in the current state of affairs where virtually any thinker will have to condemn him- or herself for essentialist thinking. In other words, we would have to give up some of our most robust intuitions that tell us that we can make stable distinctions with rational justifications grounded in something more than political tactics and that these distinctions needs not have repellent ethicopolitical ramifications.

      5. We are using the term argument in the loose sense of a group of reasons or considerations that should lead to adopting a particular belief or action. Hence, we shall speak of plausibility arguments—this looser kind—and of in-principle arguments, where the reasons and considerations given are so tightly organized that, on the basis of some firmly held belief, some other set of beliefs must be embraced or rejected. Of course, there is no sharp boundary between the two kinds of argument.

                  Also, insofar as Derrida’s argument draws on intuitions shared by Wittgenstein, Derrida also shares important intuitions with philosophers as far apart as John Searle and Richard Rorty. We shall bring out these widely shared intuitions over the course of this essay. Henry Staten has already recognized Wittgenstein’s affinities with Derrida. He, however, sees Wittgenstein as closer to Derrida than we do. See Henry Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida (Lincoln, Nebr., 1984), pp. 64-130.

      See also: Charles Spinosa and Hubert L. Dreyfus, Single-World versus Plural-World Antiessentialism: A Reply to Tim Dean

      Charles Spinosa is assistant professor of English at Miami University in Ohio. He writes on Shakespeare, Heidegger and post-Heideggerian philosophy, and early-modern common law. He is the author, with Fernando Flores and Hubert L. Dreyfus, of Disclosing New Worlds: Entrepreneurship, Democratic Action, and the Cultivation of Solidarity (forthcoming). Hubert L. Dreyfus is a professor in the graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason (1992), Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger’s “Being and Time,” Division I (1991), and, with Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (1982).

    • 764Charles Altieri
    • I think postmodernism is now dead as a theoretical concept and, more important, as a way of developing cultural frameworks influencing how we shape theoretical concepts. With its basic enabling arguments now sloganized and its efforts to escape binaries binarized, it is unlikely to generate much significant new work.1 On this I suspect most critics would agree. But that then raises the more troubling question of whether the notion of postmodernism has any more vitality as a rubric capable of sponsoring significant new work in the arts. Perhaps now that the theory has lost much of its power it may be possible to recognize how much it appropriated from the arts and to focus on differences between the two orientations. It may even be possible to regain for the arts some of the cultural authority they at least thought they possessed before “theory” took over the role of shaping how imaginations might cultivate alternatives to the ideologies dominating “official culture.”

      1. For examples of the sloganizing, see the charts produced by Ihab Habib Hassan, Robert Venturi, and David Harvey. Hassan’s and Venturi’s charts are available in Postmodernism: A Reader, ed. Thomas Docherty (New York, 1993), and Harvey’s is in David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Oxford, 1989). And for examples of the tendency to displace the versions of postmodernist imaginative strategies developed within the arts in favor of more general and activist political theorizing one need only turn to Baudrillard and Lyotard, as well as to a host of political theorists such as Anthony Woodiwiss, Postmodernity USA: The Crisis of Social Modernism in Postwar America (London, 1993), who explicitly dismiss the aesthetic aspects of postmodernism. See the appendix for a discussion of what I mean by postmodernism.

      See also: Charles Altieri, John Ashbery and the Challenge of Postmodernism in the Visual Arts  ·  Charles Altieri, Tractatus Logico‐Poeticus

      Charles Altieri teaches modern literature and literary theory at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent books are Painterly Abstraction in Modernist American Poetry: The Contemporaneity of Modernism (1995) and Subjective Agency: A Theory of First-Person Expressivity and Its Social Implications (1994). He is currently writing a book on the accomplishments of postmodern artists and writers.