Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 2007

Volume 33 Issue 4
    • 663Lauren Berlant
    • The metacases in this special issue of Critical Inquiry, “On the Case,” having redoubled reflexivity, seemed to demand two numbers. This number, “Making the Case,” looks at changes in case normativity in law, medicine, university disciplines, state taxonomies, and aesthetic genres. “Missing Persons,” the second number, focuses on cases of singled‐out personhood in history, philosophy, art history, medicine, and a variety of media. In sum, a vast range of explanatory variations on the language, scene, and event of case making has been generated, and yet neither number is as comprehensive as I would like. No essay is written from sociology (we tried) and there is just a glancing reflection on the Harvard case‐study method (see Forrester and Goodrich). In these domains, procedures of case analysis have been crucial to the reproduction of qualitative disciplinary knowledge and have themselves generated rich historical and institutional analyses of how, why, and when certain things become imperatives for fresh study and fresh narrative re‐mediation.

      See also: Peter Galison, Specific Theory

      Lauren Berlant is coeditor of Critical Inquiry, George M. Pullman Professor of English, and director of the Lesbian and Gay Studies Project of the Center for Gender Studies at the University of Chicago. Her next book is The Female Complaint (2008).

    • 673Peter Goodrich
    • So here we have a term—bullshit—that is introduced in a very public manner into popular intellectual debate and yet is introduced sous rature, in the mode of dissimulation. The suffix is deleted, negated in Freud’s terms, in the very act of being presented. The Times won’t print the word in full, and on a close examination Frankfurt transpires to address the topic so abstractly or cleanly that he barely mentions the practice, turns his nose away from the particulars, and at best sketches the concept. He admits that his intervention is “not likely to be decisive,” and we can probably agree (OB, p. 3). It may have other virtues, but that is not to the point here. The case of bullshit is met with indirection, abstraction, and avoidance of detail. This would be disastrous medically—shit is a prime diagnostic stool—dangerous hygienically, and problematic socially. The question now is whether it is equally unfortunate philosophically. My argument will be that it is. I will argue that, in its minor yet highly popular way, it represents a new form of casuistry, a third casuistic if you like, that is defined by its avoidance of the factual, its reluctance to address let alone resolve actual cases, and its refusal of refuse.

      See also: Peter Goodrich, Distrust Quotations in Latin  ·  Peter Goodrich, Visiocracy: On the Futures of the Fingerpost

      Peter Goodrich is professor of law and director of the Program in Law and Humanities, Cardozo School of Law, New York. His most recent book is The Laws of Love: A Brief Historical and Practical Manual (2006).

    • 710Diana Taylor
    • Even though, or especially because, torture transgresses all limits it is vital to fix its meaning. It cannot simply be defined phenomenologically, as a set of acts, the way the Bush administration currently proposes. Aztec priests ripping out hearts did not torture their sacrificial victims; sadomasochists do not torture each other in their pursuit of pleasure. These two examples show “victims” participating willingly in the meaning‐making system, whether that meaning is about religious belief or sexual gratification. It aims at exemplification; rape, for example, would constitute domestic abuse if inflicted on a partner but torture if inflicted on the “enemy” to destroy her and her community, such as the systemic rape of Tutsi women by Hutu militia in Rwanda. The lines between endemic violations and the exceptional case of torture are, however, porous. The aim of torture is to strip victims of their humanity: “The tortured person is only a body, and nothing beside that,” Améry wrote. “Torture becomes the total inversion of the social world” (A, pp. 33, 35).

      See also: Jan De Vos, Depsychologizing Torture  ·  James Dawes, Atrocity and Interrogation

      Diana Taylor is professor of performance studies and Spanish at New York University. She is author of Theatre of Crisis: Drama and Politics in Latin America, Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’, and The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. She is editor of Stages of Conflict: A Reader in Latin American Theatre and Performance and coeditor of Holy Terrors: Latin American Women Perform, Defiant Acts/Actos Desafiantes: Four Plays by Diana Raznovich, and The Politics of Motherhood: Activists from Left to Right. She is founding director of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics.

    • 734Nasser Hussain
    • This essay, however, is not really about these legal wranglings or the future status of Guantánamo, both of which remain complicated and in flux. Guantánamo may stay or go, the condition of its inhabitants may improve or worsen, but one thing is certain: it has become and remains shorthand for a larger set of formations. Thus underneath the question of what goes on at Guantánamo, what interrogations and excesses, is the more abiding question: What is Guantánamo? The difficulty in answering that seemingly simple question stems from two distinct but not unrelated formations. The first has to do with what I shall call the historicity of Guantánamo, the second, with the paradigm under which it has come to be understood.

      See also: John Limon, "The Shame of Abu Ghraib"

      Nasser Hussain is an assistant professor in the Department of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought at Amherst College. He is the author of The Jurisprudence of Emergency: Colonialism and the Rule of Law (2003).

    • 754Lauren Berlant
    • Indeed, practical sovereignty would be better understood not to take the mimetic or referred shape of state or individual sovereignty but a shape made by mediating conditions of zoning, labor, consumption, and governmentality, as well as unconscious and explicit desires not to be an inflated ego deploying and manifesting power. This essay looks at the not necessary continuity between pragmatic (life‐making) and accretive (life‐building) gestures and tracks the relation of that activity to the attrition of the subject. It focuses on what’s vague and gestural about the subject and episodic about the event. It presumes nothing about the meaning of decision or the impact of an act. Without attending to the varieties of constraint and unconsciousness that condition ordinary activity we persist in an attachment to a fantasy that in the truly lived life emotions are always heightened and expressed in modes of effective agency that ought justly to be and are ultimately consequential or performatively sovereign. In this habit of representing the intentional subject, a manifest lack of self‐cultivating attention can easily become recast as irresponsibility, shallowness, resistance, refusal, or incapacity; and habit itself can begin to look deeply overmeaningful, such that addiction, reaction‐formation, conventional gesture clusters, or just being different can be read as heroic placeholders for resistance to something, affirmation of something, or a transformative desire.

      See also: Vincent B. Leitch, Late Derrida: The Politics of Sovereignty

      Lauren Berlant is coeditor of Critical Inquiry, George M. Pullman Professor of English, and director of the Lesbian and Gay Studies Project of the Center for Gender Studies at the University of Chicago. Her next book is The Female Complaint (2008); this essay comes from the following one, Cruel Optimism.

    • 782John Forrester
    • I am not a professional Kuhn scholar. In my formative years, Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions decided my direction in life and was a source of great enthusiasm followed by intense study, but in the last thirty years or so it has been more the object of rumination than research. I must confess that my interest is now both personal, one might say, personal at the heart of my own identity as an idiosyncratic historian of science, and also indirect because in attempting to sort out some themes in Kuhn’s work I hope to clarify issues which were never his scholarly concerns, but are now quite recognizably mine, though ones which I hope are of larger interest. Being mine, they bear the marks of my hybrid identity as a historian of science, a hybridity that somehow never fails to protect me from the surprise of recognizing how Kuhn himself vacillated in his professional identity. A renegade physicist? A philosopher manqué? A historian of science, plain and simple, driven by the inner logic of his own writings to metamorphose into a philosopher of language? Which of these is the real Kuhn?

      See also: Jan Goldstein, Neutralizing Freud: The Lycée Philosophy Class and the Problem of the Reception of Psychoanalysis in France  ·  Leo Bersani, Psychoanalysis and the Aesthetic Subject

      John Forrester is professor of history and the philosophy of science in the University of Cambridge. He is the author, most recently, of Dispatches from the Freud Wars (1997) and Truth Games (1997), and he is completing two books: Freud in Cambridge (with Laura Cameron) and The Freudian Century.

    • 820Jessica Dubow
    • But if historicism is the dream spell from which we must awaken, then the dialectical image—as fragment, anecdote, the exemplary, the ‘unique extreme’—will only be momentary flash of critical activity. For being always awake, were that to be possible, would soon enough settle into a new durability. Even the most vigilant consciousness would in time become vulnerable to its own iteration of the same, inviting its own pact with permanence. Unlike those orders of identification with which the case form conventionally deals, the dialectical image is of course sustained only by contradiction, its critical potential released only when its referents, and their relations, are torn from their obviousness to become less an explanatory model of historical social principles than a means to destroy their appearance of perpetuity. As methodology, and as experience, the dialectical image thus remains viable only as it figures as an insurance, ridding history of homogeneity and making time—now politicised—the condition of the inassimilable. But time has a habit of moving on and we can’t live long without sleep.

      See also: Horst Bredekamp, From Walter Benjamin to Carl Schmitt, via Thomas Hobbes  ·  Fredric Jameson, The Theoretical Hesitation: Benjamin's Sociological Predecessor

      Jessica Dubow lectures on cultural geography in the Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, U.K. Her current research project, Thinking Outside the City Walls: Geography, Philosophy and the Jewish Body, investigates the relation between spatial mobility and critical thought in a Jewish‐European intellectual tradition.

    • 837James Chandler
    • A novel like Lord Jim, I will argue below, is markedly constituted by its use of the case, as both topos and trope, in a way that registers not only the rich philology relating to the term itself but also the changing shape and use of the case form in fiction since Defoe. Between the early adaptation of the judgment form of the case from ethics and law and the later adaptation of the individuation form of the case from medicine and science, I will distinguish a lesser known, intermediate moment in the history of the case—the sentimental form and its adaptation in late eighteenth‐century fiction. The sentimental, I will show, emerged as a critique of the earlier form of the case, and it may well have prepared the way for the later one. I will argue that Conrad keeps all these case modalities in play and that he addresses his great themes—ethical, political, existential—by way of situational logics and formal norms associated with the varieties of the case form.

      See also: James Chandler, Around 1980, Seamus Heaney in Chicago  ·  James Chandler, The Pope Controversy: Romantic Poetics and the English Canon 

      James Chandler is the Barbara E. and Richard J. Franke Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English and the Committee on Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, where he is also director of the Franke Institute of the Humanities. His published work includes England in 1819: The Politics of Literary Culture and the Case of Romantic Historicism (1998) and The Cambridge History of English Romantic Literature (2008). He is presently completing a book on the long history of the sentimental in literature and cinema.

    • 865Christopher Nealon
    • What might a poem be said to be exemplary of, today? How is its exemplarity shaped by discourse on poetry, on the aesthetic, on history? As far back as the Republic, debates about the value and the function of poetry have been tied to questions about the exemplarity of poetry as a kind of creativity, or representation, or labor so that, down to this day, much aesthetic and political theory still depends on a notion of poetry to explain what escapes (and urges on) conceptualization in language and in social life.1 But since the theory‐revolutions of the 1970s and 1980s the poem’s significance for historical thinking has dropped out of sight; especially in the Marxism of Fredric Jameson and his readers, narrative, rather than poetry, came to symbolize the historically and socially significant scene of human action.

      See also: Maureen N. McLane, The Figure Minstrelsy Makes: Poetry and Historicity  ·  Robert Kaufman, Negatively Capable Dialectics: Keats, Vendler, Adorno, and the Theory of the Avant‐Garde

      Christopher Nealon is associate professor in the Department of English at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Foundlings: Lesbian and Gay Historical Emotion before Stonewall (2004) and a book of poems titled The Joyous Age (2004). He is currently at work on a manuscript called The Matter of Capital: North American Poetry from Bretton Woods to Black‐Sholes and Beyond.