Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Winter 1990

Volume 16 Issue 2
    • 213Stanley Cavell
    • One quality of remarriage comedies is that, for all their ingratiating manners, and for all the ways in which they are among the most beloved of Hollywood films, a moral cloud remains at the end of each of them. And that moral cloud has to do with what is best about them. What is best are the conversations that go on in them, where conversation means of course talk, but means also an entire life of intimate exchange between the principal pair. We are bound to remember from these films, even years after viewing them, something of their sound: of conversation between Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth, or between Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, or Grant and Katharine in Bringing up Baby, or those two together with James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story, or between Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Adam’s Rib. We feel that these people know one another, and they know how to play together (know and accept, you may say, the role of theater in their mutuality) in a way to make one happy and hope for the best. But the moral cloud has to do with what that conversation is meant to do, and what I say about those films is that the conversation is in service of the woman’s sense of herself as in need of an education. Importantly for that reason, I call her a descendent of Nora in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, who in one of the most celebrated moments in modern theater, ends a play by closing a door behind her. She leaves the dollhouse saying to her husband that she requires an education and that he is not the man who can provide it for her. The implication is that since he is not this man, he cannot (in logic) be her husband. And implying the contrary as well: if he were, then he would be, and their relationship would accordingly—“miracle of miracles”—constitute a marriage.

      See also: Stanley Cavell, Excerpts from Memory  ·  Naomi Scheman, Missing Mothers / Desiring Daughters: Framing the Sight of Women

      Stanley Cavell is the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University. His most recent works include In Quest of the Ordinary: Lines of Skepticism and Romanticism (1989), This New Yet Unapproachable America (1989), and Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome (forthcoming).

    • 248Stanley Cavell
    • Coming away from a first reading of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s “The Beast in the Closet: James and the Writing of Homosexual Panic,” my sense of its pertinence to what I have written on film melodrama is so urgent that I find myself unwilling to make public the foregoing latest installment of my thoughts on the subject without including some initial responses, however hurried and improvisatory they must be now, to the material she has so remarkably brought together. Her work, among other matters, proposes an understanding of James’s “The Beast in the Jungle” that to my mind cannot sensibly be passed by in thinking further about James’s achievement. Since in readdressing James’s text in my preceding remarks about Now, Voyager, and specifying my reason in having adduced it at the end of my earlier account Letter from an Unknown Woman by describing that film’s philosophical design—relating the melodrama of the unknown woman to the woman’s assignment (by whom?) to prove the man’s existence, or preservation, to him, or for him, hence impossibly attempting to perform his cogito, the taking on of his subjectivity, overcoming his skepticism by accepting that subjectivity as undeniable—I am understandably interested, to begin with, in tracing out the connection between things Sedgwick says about John Marcher’s “two secrets” and things I have said about secrecy as a cover for the idea of “privacy” in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s (skeptical) fantasy of a private language.

      See also: Arnold I. Davidson, How to Do the History of Psychoanalysis: A Reading of Freud's Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality  ·  Arnold I. Davidson, Sex and the Emergence of Sexuality

    • 291Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Jean-Luc Nancy
    • What interests us and claims our attention in Nazism is, essentially, its ideology, in the definition Hannah Arendt has given of this term in her book on The Origins of Totalitarianism. In this work, ideology is defined as the totally self-fulfilling (and willfully self-fulfilling) logic of an idea, an idea “by which the movement of history is explained as one consistent process.” “The movement of history and the logical process of this notion,” Arendt continues, “are supposed to correspond to each other, so that whatever happens, happens according to the logic of one ‘idea.’”2

      Ideology, in other words, interests us and claims our attention insofar as, on the one hand, it always proposes itself as a political explanation of the world, that is, as an explanation of history (or still further, if you wish, as an explanation of Weltgeschichte: not the “history of the world” but rather the “world-as-history,” a world consisting only of a process, and the necessity of that process) on the basis of a single concept—the concept of race, for example, or the concept of class—and insofar as, on the other hand, this ideological explanation or conception of the world(Weltanschauung: vision, intuition, comprehensive grasp of the world—a philosophical term of which National Socialism, as you will see, made great use) seeks to be a total explanation or conception. This totality signifies that the explanation is indisputable, leaving neither gaps nor remainders—unlike philosophical thought, from which ideology shamelessly draws the greater part of its resources but which is characterized by a risky, problematic style, what Arendt calls the “insecurity” of philosophical questioning (OT, p. 470). (It follows, then, that philosophy is also rejected by the ideology that solicits it, and consigned to the incertitude and the timorous hesitations of “intellectuality.”)


      2. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951; New York, 1962), p. 469; hereafter abbreviated OT.

      See also: Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Neither an Accident nor a Mistake

      Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy teach at the University of Human Sciences of Strasbourg, France, and are also visiting professors at the University of California, Berkeley. They are coauthors of The Literary Absolute (1988) and, related to the topic of politics, “The Jewish People Don’t Dream” (Stanford Literary Review, Fall 1989). Lacoue-Labarthe is also the author of Typography (1989) and La Fiction du politique (1987; forthcoming in English). Nancy has written “Sharing Voices” in Transforming Hermeneutics (1989) and La Communauté désoeuvrée (1986; forthcoming in English). Brian Holmes is a doctoral candidate in romance languages and literatures at the University of California, Berkeley, and editor of the journal Qui Parle. He is currently at work on the parody of authorial identity in Cervantes and Flaubert.

    • 313Philip Fisher
    • Within the strategy that we call avant-garde there are two sets of tactics, one immediate, the other long term. One set could be called a tactics of short-term attention, and it is this set that has been most often noticed. Shock, surprise, self-promotion, the baiting of middle-class solemnity, outrage, a subversive playfulness, a deliberate frustration of habitual expectations, an apparent difficult or refusal of communication, a banality where profundity and seriousness were earlier the norm: these are a few of the tactics that again and again appeared as part of the competitive marketplace strategy for advertising the new.

      To be a notorious artist was always halfway to becoming a famous one, and many were willing to take the chance that once conditions were right the slight move from notoriety to fame could be accomplished. These tactics made it clear that the problem for an artist within the modern period was first of all to stand out within a crowd, within a surplus of candidates for the few places available nationally or internationally. The rivalry for initial attention under modern conditions set every artist the question of how his own work might have clear identity and felt importance. This was, in an age of products and advertising, the problem of how to turn a style into a brand.

      See also: Art & Language, Voices Off: Reflections on Conceptual Art

      Philip Fisher is professor of English at Harvard University and the author of Hard Facts (1985). The essay published here forms part of his forthcoming book Making and Effacing Art. He is currently at work on a book on the philosophical and literary history of the Passions.

    • 355Thomas McCarthy
    • The hegemony of logical positivism was already on the wane in the 1960s as a result of penetrating criticisms by thinkers both inside and outside the movement. But its legacy continued to exert a formative influence on the less doctrinaire and more diverse varieties of “analytic philosophy” that succeeded it. For one thing, occasional disclaimers to the contrary notwithstanding, the physical and formal sciences have continued to exercise a stranglehold on philosophical imagination. This has not excluded the development of more or less intimate relations with linguistics, especially formal linguistics, or a current love affair with cognitive science and artificial intelligence. But it has choked off any deep influence from the arts and humanities, as it has from history and the social sciences. And just because these latter domains have continued to be of central importance for Continental philosophy, we are left with the spectacle of “two philosophies”—analytic and Continental—mirroring the infamous split between the “two cultures.” As part of the same syndrome, analytic philosophy has become increasingly professional and technical and, consequently, largely invisible to the wider culture; whereas Continental philosophy, largely invisible to the wider culture; whereas Continental philosophy, while far from popular, has nevertheless maintained its ties to culture and society at large. The public roles of Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault in France, or of Theodor Adorno and Jürgen Habermas in Germany, have had no equivalent in American philosophy since the death of Dewey. Philosophers here think of themselves as scientists rather than as public intellectuals.

      See also: Richard Rorty, Truth and Freedom: A Reply to Thomas McCarthy  ·  Thomas McCarthy, Ironist Theory as a Vocation: A Response to Rorty's Reply

      Thomas McCarthy is professor of philosophy at Northwestern University. He is the author of The Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas (1978). This essay is part of a work-in-progress on philosophy and critical theory.

    • 371Michael Ann Holly
    • The rest of this essay will contribute to the subversion of that distinction in the history of art, with the awareness that this would no longer be a timely issue in any other historical discipline. I engage in this task because of my sense that critical attention to the formal or rhetorical resonances between objects and the histories of art that inscribe them might provide an answer for the kind of historiographic experimentation that Burke and White have obliquely urged upon the historical profession in general.

      To be fair, the history of art is not exclusively what it once was: the conservator of elite objects and the preserver of a certain canon of values. A variety of critical challenges to this traditional role have animated the discipline during the last two decades, from the revisionism of feminist and Marxist readings to the interpretive paradigms of semiotics and psychoanalysis, and yet one certainly needs to acknowledge that, for the most part, these challenges have originated outside the confines of art history proper.

      The metahistorical task of discovering some theme or issue shared by this plurality of re-visions need not necessarily prove unilluminating. The concentration on the gaze as an interpretive principle cuts across a wide sampling of recent theoretical perspectives. Paintings are, after all, meant to be looked at, so it should come as no surprise that the investigation of who or what is presumed to be doing the looking is now viewed as a critically unsettling issue in post-structuralist writings on art.

      See also: Michael Fried, The Structure of Beholding in Courbet's Burial at Ornans

      Michael Ann Holly is associate professor and chair of the department of art and art history at the University of Rochester. She is the author of Panofsky and the Foundations of Art History (1984) and co-editor, with Norman Bryson and Keith Moxey, of Visual Theory (1989).

    • 397Daniel Brudney
    • When literary texts are included in a course on moral philosophy they tend to be classical tragedies or existentialist novels: texts filled with major moral transgressions and agonized debates over rights, wrongs, and relativism. Recently, however, the focus of much discussion on literature and moral philosophy has been Henry James’s last novel, The Golden Bowl. This ought to seem surprising. For The Golden Bowl is a quintessential Jamesian novel. Almost nothing happens. In the course of more than five hundred pages there are two marriages, one affair, and a single act of violence, the smashing of the golden bowl. The rest is reflection, nuance, detail: the creation and preservation of a “‘brilliant, perfect surface,’” one “scarcely more meant to be breathed upon, it would seem, than the cheek of royalty.”1 There are no extreme actions or high-flown speculations. The moral issues among the four central characters either go unspoken or are raised expressly to be suppressed, banished from articulation. And what counts as the expression of the moral maturity and insight of the heroine, Maggie Verver, is her extraordinary ability to keep the truth silen00to put it precisely, to lie. If even there was a novel in which the protagonists shied away from moral debate, it is The Golden Bowl.

      The challenge for the philosophical critic, it seems to me, is to argue that it is just this stress on surface and silence that makes this novel of interest to moral philosophers, that makes it exemplary for how literature can do something philosophically important that philosophy cannot.


      1. Henry James, The Golden Bowl (Harmondsworth, 1966), pp. 445, 172; hereafter cited by page number.

      See also: Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, Experiments in Philosophic Genre: Descartes' "Meditations"

      Daniel Brudney is an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago.

    • 438Jerome Christensen
    • If you are anything like me, you may feel yourself unsure of what, as a critic these days, you ought to be talking about—whether literature qua literature, literature as rhetoric, literature as politics or as history, whether about the persistence of romanticism or the waxing of postmodernism, the decline of Yale or the rise of Duke. If, like me, you are puzzled by what we now ought to be about, you may also be like Paul de Man, who bespoke a similar concern: “In a manner that is more acute for theoreticians of literature than for theoreticians of the natural or the social world, it can be said that they do not quite know what it is they are talking about, … that, whenever one is supposed to speak of literature, one speaks of anything under the sun (including, of course, oneself) except literature. The need for determination,” de Man concludes, “thus becomes all the stronger as a way to safeguard a discipline which constantly threatens to degenerate into gossip, trivia or self-obsession,”1

      De Man’s wishes are rarely fulfilled, and this instance is no exception. Despite the critic’s determinations, theory, it turns out, is the story of the failure of safeguards to do the job for which they are designed. There is no better instance of that ironic truth than the career of Paul de Man. No critic has fallen farther despite his determination; from a paragon of analytical rigor, he has become the most gossiped about critic of the late 1980s


      1. Paul de Man, The Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis, 1986), p. 29; hereafter abbreviated RT.

      See also: W. J. T. Mitchell, Ut Pictura Theoria: Abstract Painting and the Repression of Language  ·  Richard Stern, Some Members of the Congress  ·  Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Man on the Dump versus the United Dames of America; Or, What Does Frank Lentricchia Want?

      Jerome Christensen teaches English at The Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of Coleridge’s Blessed Machine of language (1981) and Practicing Enlightenment: Hume and the Formation of a Literary Career (1987). This essay is part of a work in progress entitled Prefigurations: Romantic Theory and Romantic Practice.