Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 2004

Volume 30 Issue 4
    • 691Erwin Panofsky
    • From the start it must be conceded, as the art historian will instinctively and readily admit, that historical (cultural) time is not the same thing as astronomical (natural) time. When a historian says “around 1500,” he does not mean a point in time at which, according to a conventionally determined starting point, the earth has made 1500 rotations around the sun. Rather, he means a point in time that is indicated not only by concrete events but also by specific and concrete cultural characteristics. As everyone knows, the sixth decade of the fourteenth century (the well‐known differences between the generation of twenty‐year‐olds and sixty‐year‐olds notwithstanding) signifies something completely different for the historical, linguistic, and intellectual customs of Byzantium than it does for the West, that it signifies something different for Italy than it does for Germany, and that it even signifies something different for Cologne than it does for Schwäbisch‐Gmünd.

      See also: Erwin Panofsky, The Concept of Artistic Volition

      Erwin Panofsky began his career as a scholar in Germany in the early twentieth century. After emigrating to the United States he became an influential figure in the development of the art historical discipline through the publication of such books as Studies in Iconology, Meaning in the Visual Arts, and Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art and through his art history professorship at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University, where he taught until his death in 1968.

    • 702Ken Alder
    • In truth, I suppose I should count myself lucky to be here in the Poissy prison. Outside these thick walls, conditions are worse than they are in my cell. Our capital has been ravaged since the gendarmes escorted me from the courtroom! I admit to taking a certain pleasure in knowing that the sanctimonious prosecutors who locked me away have suffered an equivalent loss of freedom. We have seen in our own day how an entire nation can collapse as quickly as a single life; how a great capital can become a jail, a charnel house. Beneath the worn benches of the law courts, the deep pressures of history are always gathering force.

      See also: Lorraine Daston, Science Studies and the History of Science

      Ken Alder is a professor of history and the Milton H. Wilson Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University, where he directs the program in Science in Human Culture. He is author of Engineering the Revolution: Arms and Enlightenment in France, 17631815 (1997) and The Measure of All Things: The Seven‐Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World (2002). As part of his current project on a history of the forensic sciences, he is completing a book manuscript entitled The Lie Detectors: Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

    • 717Jerome McGann
    • For a long time there was something called the death of beauty. Recently people have been telling us that it’s time for beauty to come back into the eye of the beholder. But how does one make that happen? As the unbeautiful (if otherwise impressive) Lenin might say, “What is to be done?”

      See also: Jerome McGann, Philology in a New Key  ·  Jerome McGann, The Meaning of the Ancient Mariner

      Jerome McGann is John Stewart Bryan University Professor at the University of Virginia. His edition of Swinburne: The Major Poems and Selected Prose is forthcoming in 2004. He recently founded, with a Mellon Achievement Award, the Applied Research in ’Patacriticism group ( to develop computerized models for new kinds of performative scholarship and interpretation. He is writing a ’patacritical history of imaginative practice from 1830 to the present.

    • 739Adriano Sofri
    • Not a day passes without someone locating on the map of the brain the exact seat of emotions and inclinations that have, through the millennia, elicited verse, tears, and vows to the gods. It is encouraging, although it seems somewhat like a naval battle: hit and sunk. Perhaps the article made a particularly strong impression on me because I am not in one of my better periods and also because I had just found a footnote on Voltaire’s reaction to the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 to the effect that the term optimism had been invented in 1737, in connection with Leibniz’s Theodicy, whereas pessimism was coined, in English, only in 1795 by the poet Coleridge (although pessimisme in French existed as early as 1759). This is odd, given that optimism already appears in Candide, ou, l’optimisme (1759), to remain with Voltaire. One might well wonder how Voltaire’s well‐known turn to pessimism can be reconciled with the question of the amygdala and the cortex, when his own brain reacted so strongly to that disastrous earthquake, even though up to that time it had been inclined to a certain cordiality.

      See also: Charles Bernstein, Optimism and Critical Process (Excess)

      Adriano Sofri, political activist and author, is unjustly in prison in Italy. This essay, translated from the Italian, was originally published in French translation as a letter to Hervé Loichemol under the title De l’optimisme ( See Carlo Ginzburg’s The Judge and the Historian for a treatment of Sofri’s case.

    • 771C. J. W.‐L. Wee

      Since the 1980s a number of East and Southeast Asian nations actually have benefited, we know, from the West’s global shift, ranging from the capitalist mini‐dragon Singapore to the not quite postsocialist Vietnam and post–World Trade Organization China. They desire a continued or new part in the global order. Such desires do not in themselves lead to a lessened sense of the present imperialist mode of domination—even if such domination now requires some collusion from the victims.

      The global economic and cultural dispersal of the West (what I call the global West) engenders new forms of cultural difference and cultural production that link regional identities to (still) limited cosmopolitan versions of Asia that attempt to contend with Asian nations’ subordinate positions. Western cosmopolitanism, Timothy Brennan has noted, “is local while denying its local character.”

      See also: Timothy Brennan, The Illusion of a Future: "Orientalism" as Traveling Theory

      C. J. W.‐L. Wee teaches literature and cultural theory at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and was a fellow in the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. He is the author of Culture, Empire, and the Question of Being Modern (2003) and the editor of Local Cultures and the “New Asia”: The State, Culture, and Capitalism in Southeast Asia (2002). His essay is part of a book in progress on the problematics of a statist formation of a postcolonial Asian modernity in the city‐state of Singapore.

    • 800Jean and John Comaroff
    • And yet, at the same time, there seems to be more to the public obsession with criminality and disorder than the mere fact of its reality. South Africans of all stripes are also captivated by images of crime and policing, whether it be in the form of avid rumor or homegrown telenovelas, Hollywood horror or high theater, earnest documentaries or trashy melodramas. Whatever dangers they may dodge on the streets by day, at night, behind carefully secured doors, a high proportion of them indulge in vicarious experiences of extravagant lawlessness by way of the media, both imported and local. Why should this be so?

      See also: Michel Foucault, The Subject and Power

      Jean Comaroff is the Bernard E. and Ellen C. Sunny Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Her past books include Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance: The Culture and History of a South African People (1985). John Comaroff is the Harold H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago and a research fellow at the American Bar Foundation. His books include Rules and Processes: The Cultural Logic of Dispute in an African Context, coauthored with Simon Roberts. Together, Jean and John Comaroff have published, among other works, the two‐volume Of Revelation and Revolution (1991, 1997) and Ethnography and the Historical Imagination (1992). They are currently completing Policing the Postcolony: Crime, Violence, and the State.