Of all the media and genres of imagery, landscape is the one that makes the constitutive blindness and invisibility of the visual process most evident. We notice this even in the most common injunction in the presence of a landscape prospect: “look at the view.” What does that mean? How can one “look at a view”? One looks at objects, figures, faces, bodies, and signs. Our visual system learns to pick out things that have names: this tree, that house, those fence posts. So what are we looking at when we look at the view? Everything and nothing. The view is the totality of the objects in our visual field, the relations among them, the entire system or syntax that underlies the language of vision. Looking at the view is like looking at the grammar of a sentence, while forgetting what it is saying. Or it is like looking at looking, a process that invariably reveals to us the paradoxical invisibility of vision itself. We will never quite see what vision is, no matter how precisely we may describe or depict it.
W. J. T. Mitchell is editor of Critical Inquiry. His most recent book is What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images (2006). He is currently at work on the book Claiming Terror: The War of Images, 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.
Everywhere one goes in Palestine—even in rural areas—one finds oneself amongst rubble, picking a way through, around, and over it. At a checkpoint, around some greenhouses that lorries can no longer reach, along any street, going to any rendezvous.
The rubble is of houses, roads, and the debris of daily lives. There’s scarcely a Palestinian family that has not been forced during the last half century to flee from somewhere, just as there’s scarcely a town in which buildings are not regularly bulldozed by the occupying army.
There’s also the rubble of words—the rubble of words that house nothing any more, whose sense has been destroyed. Notoriously, the I.D.F.—the Israeli Defence Force, as the Israeli army is called—has become, de facto, an army of conquest. As Sergio Yahni, one of the inspiringly courageous Israeli refusniks (they refuse to serve in the Army) writes: “This army does not exist to bring security to the citizens of Israel: it exists to guarantee the continuation of the theft of Palestinian land.”
John Berger, art critic, novelist, screenwriter, and essayist, is the author of many works of fiction and nonfiction, including To the Wedding (1995), About Looking (1980), and Ways of Seeing (1972). His latest book is Here Where We Meet (2005).
Humankind will prevail, and it will prevail because, in spite of the accidents of history, the novel tells us that art restores the life in us that was disregarded by the haste of history.
Literature makes real what history forgot. And because history has been what was, literature will offer what history has not always been.
That is why we will never witness—bar universal catastrophe—the end of history.
Carlos Fuentes, novelist, journalist, playwright, and essayist, is author most recently of The Eagle’s Throne (2006), This I Believe: An A to Z of a Life (2005), and Contra Bush (2004).
What is the other, or opposite, of knowledge? Ignorance? Uncertainty? Undecidability? Theory? Belief? What is the other, or opposite, of belief? Unbelief? Disbelief? Doubt? Atheism? Agnosticism? Certainty? Knowledge?
How we define the range of signification and connotation here will shape the way we think about these contestatory, overused, and ultimately unsatisfactory terms, terms that are both empty and loaded. Empty because they can mean so many different things in different disciplines, practices, and semiotic schemes. Loaded because they are stuffed, even overstuffed, with meanings and implications, like a sofa or a foie gras duck or a comic farce. Or a loaded gun.
Marjorie Garber is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of English and American Literature and Language and of visual and environmental studies at Harvard University, where she is chair of the department of visual and environmental studies and director of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. Author of, among many works, Shakespeare after All (2004), which was awarded the 2005 Christian Gauss Prize, she is currently working on Patronizing the Arts, a study of art patronage, cultural institutions, and mutual misprision.
Muslim jurists claim, and all Muslims believe, that justice and equality are intrinsic values and cardinal principles in Islam and the sharia. If this is the case, in a state that claims to be guided by the sharia, why are justice and equality not reflected in the laws that regulate gender relations and the rights of men and women? Why do Islamic jurisprudential texts—which define the terms of the sharia—treat women as second‐class citizens and place them under men’s domination?
I came to confront these questions in 1979, when a popular revolution in my country, Iran, transformed my personal and intellectual life. Like most Iranian women, I strongly supported the 1978–79 revolution and believed in the justice of Islam; but when the Islamists strengthened their hold on power and made the sharia (or their interpretation of it) the law of the land, I found myself a second‐class citizen. This brought the realization that there can be no justice for me, as a Muslim woman, as long as patriarchy is justified and upheld in the name of Islam. The prevailing interpretations of the sharia do not reflect the values and principles that I hold to be at the core of my faith.
Ziba Mir‐Hosseini is an independent consultant, researcher, and writer on Middle Eastern issues, specializing in gender, family relations, and Islamic law and development, and is based at the London Middle East Institute. In fall 2006, she will be Hauser Global Law Visiting Professor at the School of Law, New York University. Her recent books include Islam and Gender: The Religious Debate in Contemporary Iran (1999) and, with Richard Tapper, Islam and Democracy in Iran: Eshkevari and the Quest for Reform (2006). She has also directed (with Kim Longinetto) two feature‐length documentary films on contemporary issues in Iran: Divorce Iranian Style (1998) and Runaway (2001).
I have been rather surprised by Slavoj Žižek’s critique of my book On Populist Reason (see Slavoj Žižek, “Against the Populist Temptation,” Critical Inquiry 32 [Spring 2006]: 551–74). Given that the latter is strongly critical of Žižek’s approach, I was expecting, of course, some reaction on his part. He has chosen for his reply, however, a rather indirect and oblique road; he does not answer a single of my criticisms of his work and formulates, instead, a series of objections to my book that only make sense if one fully accepts his theoretical perspective—which is, precisely, what I had questioned. To avoid continuing with this dialogue of the deaf I will take the bull by the horns, reasserting what I see as fundamentally wrong in Žižek’s approach and, in the course of this argument, I will refute also Žižek’s criticisms.
Ernesto Laclau is professor of politics at the University of Essex and Distinguished Professor of Humanities and Rhetorical Studies at Northwestern University. He is the author of Politics and Ideology of Our Time (1977), New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time (1990), and Emancipation(s) (1996) and coauthor with Chantal Mouffe of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy and with Slavoj Žižek and Judith Butler of Contingency, Hegemony, and Universality (2000). His most recent book is On Populist Reason (2005).
For more than two decades no one has articulated a successful generalization about contemporary art. First there have been fears of essentialism, followed by the sheer relief of having shaken off exclusivist theories, imposed historicisms, and grand narratives, and then, recently, delight in the simple‐seeming pleasures of an open field. More prosaically, the answer has seemed obvious to the point of banality. Look around you. Contemporary art is most—why not all?—of the art that is being made now. It cannot be subject to generalization and has overwhelmed art history; it is simply, totally contemporaneous. But this pluralist happymix is illusory. The question of contemporary art has, in fact, been insistently answered more narrowly by the acts of artists and the organizations that sustain them—so much so that these responses are, by now, deeply embedded in both. (Buried in each other, according to Elmgreen and Dragset.) The responses do not have singular shape; rather, they embody tendencies towards both closure and openness. Most accounts highlight the currency of one or another aspect of current practice: new media, digital imagery, immersive cinema, national identifications, new internationalism, disidentification, neomodernism, relational aesthetics, postproduction art, remix cultures. The list keeps extending.
Terry Smith is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory in the Henry Clay Frick Department of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently at work on The Architecture of Aftermath, What Is Contemporary Art? and, with Nancy Condee and Okwui Enwezor, Antinomies of Art and Culture.
Knowingness is the glue of social discourse. It may involve belief about other people and about oneself, and it may parade the signs of knowledge, but it is itself neither knowledge nor belief. The opposition of knowledge and belief, however, may seem to be constructed to exclude or denigrate what remains necessary to social exchange. Knowingness is not open to the testing and accountability which divide knowledge and belief and which invest them with their value. But, most importantly, I would like to suggest that knowingness helps us to see the dangerous fantasy of a world of Platonic knowledge, a world that divides discourse into knowledge or belief, and which seeks to exclude the messy irony, masks, and veils of social exchange. One may even go so far as to suggest that recognizing the discursive necessity of knowingness might help put a block or hesitation in the fierce connection between the Platonic opposition of knowledge and belief and the grimmer aspects of Platonic politics.
Simon Goldhill is professor of Greek at Cambridge University and director of the Research Centre at King’s College. He has published widely on Greek literature and culture and is a regular lecturer and broadcaster in Europe and the United States. His most recent books include Who Needs Greek? (2002), Love, Sex, and Tragedy (2004), and The Temple of Jerusalem (2004). He is currently running a project on ‘Abandoning the Past in Victorian Britain’.
Levi’s tales, or jokes, envision situations in which an ontological boundary is erased and our universe is overtaken by an apocryphal creation in which there is no distinction between humans and other ludibria. Here, humans can be redesigned and made fit to carry out a number of tasks in a way that makes the whole sequence of events leading to the accomplishment of such tasks amenable to a purely natural story. This view of human life, stressing the transience and fragility of what makes us human, hints at the inherent morality of the concern that permeates the Storie. Levi here is trying to rescue a core of fundamental beliefs concerning our normative nature. What he is asking us then is to think the unthinkable and imagine a creation in which such things as humans, animals, and portentous beings, each of which corresponds to a clear‐cut ontological entry, have merged into an indistinct, nonnormative background, and there is no longer room for such normative distinctions like the ones between freedom and authority, innocence and culpability, victims and perpetrators.
Roberto Farneti is research associate (cultore della materia) in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Bologna. He is the author of Il canone moderno: Filosofia politica e genealogia (2002) and is currently completing a book manuscript, in English, on contemporary challenges to the classical understanding of normativity.
Archaeology and the history of art share one intimate aspect of method about which we tend to be less explicit than we should be. Whenever we make an argument on the basis of visual or material evidence we take something extremely specific, of which the discussion is inevitably a precise and detailed contextual or formal description, and we use this as a step to generate a large generalization. Whether our art history is interested in artists, patrons, or viewers, in sociological context and conditions of production, in strict morphological connections or in high semiotic theory, our generalizations inevitably leap beyond what is strictly provable by the precise analysis of something so particular as a specific object or set of objects.
Jaś Elsner is Humfry Payne Senior Research Fellow in classical archaeology at Corpus Christi College, Oxford and visiting professor of art history at the University of Chicago. His book Roman Eyes: Visuality and Subjectivity in Art and Text is forthcoming.
The delay of, or by, philosophy is I suppose humanly unavoidable in the long run, as long, that is to say, as philosophical reflection remains available as a companion to a human existence. If it does then there must remain conditions for calling upon philosophical reflection, for example, the willingness to find yourself lost, a necessity attested explicitly since at least the opening of Dante’s Inferno (“In the middle of life’s journey … I found that I had lost the way”) and all but explicitly, as I read it, as late as Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (“A philosophical problem has the form: I do not know my way about”); and I would include here Thoreau’s report at the opening of Walden of finding himself disoriented, perceiving his townsmen as crazed, uncommunicating fanatics. This is, in turn, understandable as a vision realizing Emerson’s having remarked, “Every word they [his conforming countrymen] say chagrins us,” and hence brings out the fantastic confession in Emerson’s apparently casual observation, namely, that every word he shares with others (which is essentially to say his every word) is ready to cause him chagrin.
Stanley Cavell is Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value Emeritus at Harvard University. He has recently completed two books—Cities of Words and Philosophy the Day after Tomorrow—and a draft of a book of autobiographical reflection of which the fragment that appears here is the opening half of the first and longest of eight sections.