Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 2010

Volume 36 Issue 4
    • 627Patricia Ticineto Clough
    • In her introduction to Critical Inquiry's special issue entitled “On the Case,” Lauren Berlant reports that in conversations she had with sociologists, mostly qualitative sociologists, she learned that they found it hard to imagine that the case could be a focus of criticism shared by scholars in the humanities and in sociology alike.1 This is because for sociologists, Berlant goes on, the case is understood to be “too methodical a path to whatever it is that humanists mean when they invoke the rubric of thinking.” Rather, sociologists take the case to be “crucial to the reproduction of qualitative disciplinary knowledge” as it points to “how, why, and when certain things become imperatives for fresh study and fresh narrative re-mediation.”2 [...]

      Yet I want to suggest that from a certain point of view there is no understanding of the case without a critical engagement with sociology and its disciplining distinction between qualitative research and empirical science, between small N and big N research. The point of view I want to take has its roots in what Michel Foucault referred to as “procedures of governmentality,” when he, commenting on his methodological approach to the relation of state and economy, found himself to be utilizing the same analysis of micropowers that he used in studying criminality, sexuality, and madness; as he put it: “the analysis of micro-powers is not a question of scale, and it is not a question of a sector, it is a question of point of view.”4 Foucault's remarks might well suggest that the distinctions between qualitative and quantitative research, between insight and empirical evidence, between the social sciences and the humanities, distinctions in which the case is framed and which sociology's understanding of the case continues to sustain, may hinder a critical engagement with governmentality. So, why are these distinctions nonetheless maintained, even policed? In what follows, I first turn to a much read and debated criticism of a set of ethnographies in order to begin to answer this question, and then I go on to draw out the relationship of the case, sociology, and governmentality suspended just beneath the essays in “On the Case.”

      1. These conversations appear mostly in Berlant's footnotes to the introduction. Although she made every effort to have a sociologist write for the collection, she was unable to find one to offer to do so.

      2. Lauren Berlant, “On the Case,” Critical Inquiry 33 (Summer 2007): 668, 666.

      4. Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–1979, trans. Graham Burchell, ed. Michel Senellart (New York, 2008), p. 186.

      Patricia Ticineto Clough is professor of sociology and women's studies at the Graduate Center and Queens College of the City University of New York. She is author of Autoaffection: Unconscious Thought in the Age of Teletechnology (2000); The End(s) of Ethnography: From Realism to Social Criticism(1998); and Feminist Thought: Desire, Power, and Academic Discourse (1994). She is the editor of The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social (2007) and, with Craig Willse, of Beyond Biopolitics: Essays on the Governance of Life and Death (forthcoming). She is currently working on Ecstatic Corona: Philosophy and Family Violence, an ethnographic, historically researched, experimental writing project about where she grew up in Queens, New York.

      See also: Lauren Berlant, On the Case  ·  Lauren Berlant, Slow Death (Sovereignty, Obesity, Lateral Agency)  ·  William Mazzarella, Who's Afraid of the Crowd?

    • 642Sarah Hammerschlag
    • The documents that follow attest to the intensity of the nearly lifelong friendship between Maurice Blanchot and Emmanuel Lévinas. They speak as well to the demand for integrity and purity that marked their relationship as much as their thought. The textual record of their mutual intellectual engagement can be read as a series of reminders in which each holds up a mirror to the other and demands a more stringent adherence to the core insights that shaped their respective philosophical and literary itineraries.

      Sarah Hammerschlag is assistant professor of religion at Williams College and currently a senior fellow at the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Author of The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (2010), she is currently working on a second book entitled Sowers and Sages: The Renaissance of Judaism in Postwar Paris.

    • 645Emmanuel Lévinas
    • And herein lies the anachronism of a Jewish state. “We” are going to satisfy all the thirsts that two thousand years of privation have exacerbated. “These devils want to be happy,” as the neo-Kantian Hermann Cohen said with repugnance. The thirst for ministers, ambassadors, functionaries, the military who will finally have their protocols, their bailiffs, their decorations, their honors; and with all that they'll make a politics that had nothing but its liturgy to wait for. In the majority of cases, the supporters who come to us from elsewhere function only according to illusions of this type: Isn't it magnificent, Jewish soldiers and Jewish peasants? And thus a culture that would be young, rerooted in the soil, “healthy” as they say, concrete, patriotic. They will know France as they will England and Italy or as one knows the foreign literature of Chile. Really, though, they don't care about all that. They're just hungry to start a History.

      See also: Emmanuel Levinas, As If Consenting to Horror  ·  Emmanuel Levinas, Reflections on the Philosophy of Hitlerism  ·  Jacques Derrida, Adieu

    • 649Michaël Lévinas
    • In 1994, my mother had just died. I went to visit my father on Rue Michel-Ange. I found him on the telephone with Maurice Blanchot.

      To my knowledge, this had almost never occurred.

      In expressing their mourning, they said tu to one another. The words broke up over their first names: Maurice, Emmanuel. There was between the two of them an inexpressible connection that for thirty years had only been expressed through letters and the dedications of their books.

    • 652Sarah Hammerschlag
    • In 1988, L'Arche, a popular French Jewish monthly, ran the headline “Maurice Blanchot Expresses Himself on Judaism for the First Time.” In the essay, which was published as an open letter to Salomon Malka, Blanchot begins by revealing that this is exactly what he would not do.

      In some sense, Judaism is so close to me that I do not feel that I possess the dignity to speak of it, except to make known this proximity and the reasons for this proximity (but even that, can I express it?). Isn't it presumptuous to hope one day to be able to speak of it? Will there ever be a day on which to express it? The answer: not in the time to come [l'avenir], but perhaps in the future.1

      The essay begins thus with a disavowal, a seeming refusal to speak on exactly the promised topic. And, yet, this is exactly what Blanchot, a French cultural Catholic, has to express about Judaism, that the only form proper to it is disavowal. At least, that is, until the future, at a time that should not be mistaken with a time to come.

      Is there anything to this claim beyond a series of enigmas? Blanchot is no stranger to negative discourse and messianic language, yet it is striking and seemingly unfitting to see it applied to terms of religious identity rather than God, death, or the disaster. Why would Blanchot suggest that Judaism, a historical tradition with a scriptural canon, could become unspeakable?

      1. Maurice Blanchot, “N'oubliez pas,” Écrits politiques: 1958–1993 (Paris, 2003), p. 165.

      Sarah Hammerschlag is assistant professor of religion at Williams College and currently a senior fellow at the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Author of The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (2010), she is currently working on a second book entitled Sowers and Sages: The Renaissance of Judaism in Postwar Paris.

      See also: Maurice Blanchot, letter to Catherine David  ·  Peter Schwenger, Words and the Murder of the Thing  ·  Geoffrey Ward, Maurice Blanchot and Tennyson

    • 673Cesare Casarino
    • But exactly what type of universal is this “international consciousness” that constitutes the heart of the microcosms of the national and of the individual? It is here that I find Said's reading of Fanon to be most inspiring. At a crucial moment in his engagement with Fanon, Said puts forth a philologically dubious and yet conceptually powerful hypothesis, namely, that while writing The Wretched of the Earth Fanon was reading Georg Lukács's History and Class Consciousness, which had just appeared in French in 1960. Heedless of the fact that such a hypothesis may well turn out to be unfounded, Said nevertheless proceeds to identify two important Lukácsian echoes in Fanon's discussion of the historical situation of the colonized. First of all, Said points out that Fanon describes the condition of the colonized in ways that resonate with Lukács's articulation of the condition of the worker under capitalist exchange relations—both, in other words, are conditions of reification and fragmentation. Second, Said writes that for Lukács such a condition “could be overcome by an act of mental will, by which one lonely mind could join another by imagining the common bond between them, breaking the enforced rigidity that kept human beings as slaves to tyrannical outside forces” and suggests that—likewise—Fanon posits such a feat of the imagination as part and parcel of that practice of violence which is necessary for the overthrow of colonialism. “It so happens”—Fanon writes, as quoted by Said—“that for the colonized people this violence, because it constitutes their only work, invests their character with positive and creative qualities. The practice of violence binds them together.” Said comments thus: “Fanon is not only reshaping colonial experience in terms suggested by Lukacs, but also characterizing the emergent cultural and political antagonism to imperialism.”15

      15. Said, Culture and Imperialism, pp. 270, 271.

      Cesare Casarino is professor of cultural studies and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Modernity at Sea: Melville, Marx, Conrad in Crisis (2002), the coauthor (with Antonio Negri) of In Praise of the Common: A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics (2008), and the coeditor (with Saree Makdisi and Rebecca Karl) of Marxism beyond Marxism (1996).

      See also: Timothy Brennan, The Empire’s New Clothes  ·  Timothy Brennan, "Orientalism" as Traveling Theory  ·  Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Critical Fanonism

    • 697William Mazzarella
    • Today we speak of multitudes rather than crowds. Or, to be more precise, if we want to suggest that the immanent potentials of a collective are politically progressive we call this collective a multitude, whereas if we want to cast it as regressive we call it a crowd. Crowds, supposedly, belong to the past of the (neo)liberal democracies of the global North. By the same token, they also mark the present of non- or insufficiently liberal polities in the global South. To simplify somewhat, crowds are the dark matter that pull on the liberal subject from its past, whereas multitudes occupy the emergent horizon of a postliberal politics.

      It is as if, even now, speaking of crowds means speaking of something crude and stupid. So we use qualifiers. In our internet age we hear a lot about the network society with its smart mobs and virtual crowds.1 Decentralized assemblages, the networks of the so-called knowledge society, involve nimble, self-organizing crowds. But the hotheaded savagery of the old, regressive crowd is never far behind, particularly when race or class comes into play. Consider how commentary on Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign bifurcated. Never before, we were told, had the internet so cleverly been used to coordinate a virtual social movement around a political candidate. At the same time, conservative pundits wrinkled their noses at the whiff of the “Third World” that hovered around this “politics of crowds.”2

      This essay asks why, at a time when we are once again turning our attention to the immanent potentials of groups, we remain so afraid of crowds?

      1. See The Network Society: A Cross-Cultural Perspective, ed. Manuel Castells (Northampton, Mass., 2004); Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution (Cambridge, Mass., 2002); James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds (New York, 2004); and Jan van Dijk, The Network Society: Social Aspects of New Media (1999; Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2005).

      2. See Fouad Ajami, “Obama and the Politics of Crowds,” Wall Street Journal: Opinion Journal, 30 Oct. 2008, Thanks to Jeffrey Parker for bringing this reference to my attention.

      William Mazzarella is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Shoveling Smoke: Advertising and Globalization in Contemporary India (2003) and the coeditor (with Raminder Kaur) of Censorship in South Asia: Cultural Regulation from Sedition to Seduction (2009). He is currently working on a book titled The Censor's Fist: Cinema Regulation as Public Affect Management in India.

      See also: Michael Taussig, I'm so Angry I Made a Sign  ·  Larzer Ziff, Whitman and the Crowd  ·  Christine Poggi, Folla/Follia: Futurism and the Crowd

    • 728Mark Jarzombek
    • In 1789, an English visitor to Germany noted with some astonishment that at five in the afternoon the emperor goes “to the Corridor just near his own apartment, where poor and rich, small and great, have access to his person at pleasure, and often get him to arbitrate their law-suits.”1 The use of the word corridor might not strike a modern reader as particularly unusual. But the word was not all that common in English, and most certainly no English king at that time would have had such a corridor in his palace. Today, of course, corridors are so ubiquitous in our public buildings—and the word so casually used as metaphor—that one can hardly imagine that they played anything other than a relatively trivial part in the history of architecture. But that turns out to not be the case. John Soane's Bank of England (begun 1788) had no corridors, and even the enormous Somerset House (1776–86), England's first large-scale government building, made only limited use of them. The architect of Somerset House, William Chambers, defined corridors in his dictionary of architectural terms as an element of domestic architecture, no doubt creating the illusion—and to some degree the error—that corridors are primarily a feature of houses.2 If corridors were being built in English-speaking countries in the late eighteenth century, they were in prisons, as in the formidable Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. But even in that context they were considered a novelty.

      1. Hester Lynch Piozzi, Observations and Reflections Made in the Course of a Journey through France, Italy, and Germany, 2 vols. (London, 1789), 2:296.

      2. See William Chambers, A Treatise on the Decorative Part of Civil Architecture (London, 1862), p. 330.

      Mark Jarzombek is professor of the history and theory of architecture and associate dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has published on a wide range of historical topics from the Renaissance to the modern. He is the author of The Psychologizing of Modernity (2000).

      See also: Paul de Man, Sign and Symbol in Hegel's "Aesthetics"  ·  W. J. T. Mitchell, Holy Landscape  ·  Jeffrey T. Schnapp, The Fabric of Modern Times

    • 771William J. Rankin
    • For those in search of a whipping boy for the evils of modern capitalism, the corporate research laboratory seems like an easy choice. Seen from a passing car or a low-flying airplane, these buildings might appear to reinforce any number of clichés about the kind of people—and the kind of knowledge—created when profit reigns supreme. Their monolithic, repetitive architecture conjures images of the man in the gray flannel suit, stripped of individuality and creativity, rotting in New Jersey. Their huge lawns and manicured trees hint that these are closed, isolated fortresses that do not produce disinterested knowledge for the betterment of humanity but instrumental knowledge that serves only the logic of capital. After all, aren't these the places where nicotine is shown to be nonaddictive, where rabbits are tortured to make cosmetics, and where promising young researchers trade their scholarly ambitions for a generous paycheck? The chronology here is likewise suggestive. The first of these megafacilities was built in the late 1930s. Spurred by the triple intersection of big business, architectural modernism, and war—all of which have a pesky reputation for certain flavors of authoritarianism—over the course of the 1940s the typological principles of the corporate laboratory were adopted almost universally. By 1950, the same design ideas were applied not just to the sprawling sites of GE, GM, and IBM but to the more modest facilities of the American Can, Hercules Powder, and Pure Oil companies as well. Even academia and the government came to follow corporate precedent, and professional agreement about the qualities of a well-designed research space has remained remarkably stable in the decades since. One could hardly ask for a tidier tale of the corruptions of Mammon.

      William J. Rankin is finishing a dual PhD in history of science and architecture at Harvard University and will be an assistant professor of history at Yale University beginning in 2011. His dissertation, “After the Map: Cartography, Navigation, and the Transformation of Territory in the Twentieth Century,” is a history of the mapping sciences, sovereignty, and U.S. military globalism in the decades surrounding World War II.

      See also: Peter Galison, Logical Positivism and Architectural Modernism  ·  R. John Williams, The Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism  ·  Susan Buck-Morss, Envisioning Capital