Some evil actions are public. Maybe genocide is the most awful. Other evil actions are private, a matter of one person harming another or of self-inflicted injury. Child abuse, in our current reckoning, is the worst of private evils. We want to put a stop to it. We know we can’t do that, not entirely. Human wickedness (or disease, if that’s your picture of abuse) won’t go away. But we must protect as many children as we can. We want also to discover and help those who have already been hurt. Anyone who feels differently is already something of a monster.
We are so sure of these moral truths that we seldom pause to wonder what child abuse is. We know we don’t understand it. We have little idea of what prompts people to harm children. But we do have the sense that what we mean by child abuse is something perfectly definite. So it comes as a surprise that the very idea of child abuse has been in constant flux the past thirty years. Previously our present conception of abusing a child did not even exist. People do many of the same vile things to children, for sure, that they did a century ago. But we’ve been almost unwittingly changing the very definitions of abuse and revising our values and our moral codes accordingly.
Ian Hacking, a philosopher, teaches at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology in the University of Toronto. His latest book is entitled The Taming of Chance (1990).
The question of what constitutes a finished work is thrown open, reminding us that in certain of his completed autographs Beethoven continued the process that he normally reserved for the earlier stages of composition, setting out further choices, possibilities, and interchangeabilities, including radical alterations in goal as well as detail. In particular, the revision of movement endings was one of his long-standing preoccupations. In works of his middle period, Emil Platen observed, Beethoven continued to make essential alterations in the closing sections of movements after the works had already taken concrete notational form; for example, in the scores of the String Quartets, op. 59, “out of a total of seven movement endings, six were altered after the fact, four in essential ways.”6 Indeed the relationship between sketches and compositional goals was always more problematical than traditional scholars were willing to allow. As Lewish Lockwood has shown, the closer one looks at the sketches the less one can continue to accept as an article of faith that “as a work progresses from first inklings to final realization it should pass through successive phases of growth and clarification of structure, and of complication of detail in relation to that structure, becoming progressively more definite en route to its goal.”7 To further thicken the issue, Janet Levy has pointed out that one “cannot assume that the goals of a completed work are necessarily the same as the goals of the sketches for it,” inasmuch as the composer’s intentions may well have changed during the course of composition and we may be left with sketches made in connection with goals no longer reflected in the final work.8 Composition is only partly a teleological process whereby the composer eventually finds a lapidary form for a predetermined idea. With Beethoven, not only is there no prospective inevitability, there may even be no inevitability after the fact. His sketches and autographs may well be series of rough maps to the multiplicity of universes he glimpsed, to a plurality of possibilities, a jammed crossroads of paths taken and not taken.
· 6. Emil Platen, “Beethovens Autographen als Ausgangspunkt morphologischer Untersuchungen,” in Bericht über den internationalen musikwissenschaftlichen Kongress: Bonn 1970, ed. Carl Dahlhaus et al. (Kassel, 1971), p. 535. See also Lewis Lockwood, “Beethoven and the Problem of Closure: Some Examples from the Middle-Period Chamber Music,” in Beiträge zu Beethovens Kammermusik, p. 270.
· 7. Lockwood, “On Beethoven’s Sketches and Autographs: Some Problems of Definition and Interpretation,” Acta Musicologica 42 (Jan.-June 1970): 34.
· 8. Levy, Beethoven’s Compositional Choices, p. 3.
Maynard Solomon’s books include Beethoven (1977), Beethoven Essays (1988), and, most recently, Beethoven’s Tagebuch (1990). He has also written on Schubert, Ives, and Freud, and has edited a standard work on Marxist aesthetics. He is currently writing a life of Mozart and a study of the origins of music. In 1990 he was visiting professor of music at Columbia University.
For hundreds of years, Muslim Spain was the most tolerant place in Europe. Christians, Muslims, and Jews were able to live together there more or less peacefully. The three religious groups maintained a tolerant convivencia, or coexistence, thanks partly to a twofold distinction among kinds of people that was essential to the particularist doctrine of Islam influential in Spain. Islamic doctrine distinguishes first between Muslim and non-Muslim peoples and second between those non-Muslims who are, like Muslims themselves, “Peoples of the Book” (that is, Christians and Jews) and those non-Muslims who are “pagan.” These two distinctions, taken together, could amount to the difference between life and death. For example, Muslim courts ruled on the basis of the Koran that those “others” who were Peoples of the Book could not legally be put to the sword for refusing to convert to Islam while those “others” who were pagan could be. Christians and Jews had to be put up with, and usually were.2
· 1. Henry Kamen, Inquisition and Society in Spain in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Bloomington, Ind., 1985), p. 264; my emphasis; hereafter abbreviated I.
· 2. The Koran grounds the series of divisions outlined and is consistent with the well-known Pact of Umar I, which established special regulations for Christians and Jews living in Muslim lands: “’There is to be no compulsion in religion. Rectitude has been clearly distinguished from error. So whoever disbelieves in idols and believes in Allah has taken hold of the firmest handle. It cannot split. Allah is All-hearing and All-knowing’” (Sura 2:256; quoted in Norman A. Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book [Philadelphia, 1979], p. 149). See also Sura 109:6: “To you your religion, to me my religion.”
Marc Shell, a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow for 1990-95, is head of the department of comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. His books include The Economy of Literature (1978), Money, Language, and Thought: Literary and Philosophical Economies from the Medieval to the Modern Era (1982), and The End of Kinship: “Measure for Measure,” Incest, and the Ideal of Universal Siblinghood (1988). Children of the Earth is forthcoming.
Sara Suleri has written recently, in Meatless Days, of being treated as an "otherness machine"-and of being heartily sick of it.20 Perhaps the predicament of the postcolonial intellectual is simply that as intellectuals-a category instituted in black Africa by colonialism-we are, indeed, always at the risk of becoming otherness machines, with the manufacture of alterity as our principal role. Our only distinction in the world of texts to which we are latecomers is that we can mediate it to our fellows. This is especially true when postcolonial meets postmodern; for what the postmodern reader seems to demand of Africa is all too close to what modernism-in the form of the postimpressionists-demanded of it. The role that Africa, like the rest of the Third World, plays for Euro-American postmodernism-like its better-documented significance for modernist art-must be distinguished from the role postmodernism might play in the Third World; what that might be it is, I think, too early to tell. What happens will happen not because we pronounce on the matter in theory, but will happen out of the changing everyday practices of African cultural life.
For all the while, in Africa's cultures, there are those who will not see themselves as Other. Despite the overwhelming reality of economic decline; despite unimaginable poverty; despite wars, malnutrition, disease, and political instability, African cultural productivity grows apace: popular literatures, oral narrative and poetry, dance, drama, music, and visual art all thrive. The contemporary cultural production of many African societies, and the many traditions whose evidences so vigorously remain, is an antidote to the dark vision of the postcolonial novelist.
· 20. Sara Suleri, Meatless Days (Chicago, 1989), p. 105.
Kwame Anthony Appiah, professor of philosophy and literature at Duke University, is the author of a number of books, including For Truth in Semantics (1986), Necessary Questions (1989), and In My Father's House (forthcoming), a collection of essays on African cultural politics. His first novel, Avenging Angel, was published in 1990.
In what is probably the most arresting of all the textual developments of the Saturnalian dialogues, the reader’s emotional identification with the voice of rage and thwarted rebellion is ever more thoroughly compelled by the structure and tone of succeeding works, at the same time that the dangers of that role, both for its bearer and for others, are ever more explicitly argued. Readers of Le Neveau de Rameau are not forced by the inner logic of the text to choose between Moi and Lui, and they can find in each a welcome counterbalance to and relief from the demands of the other. But in Notes from Underground the “gentlemen-readers” have nothing left to offer us, and the novel makes it impossible to feel anything less than the same contempt for their platitudes that the Underground Man himself flaunts. The clearest index of the development I am tracing is the formal shift from Diderot’s dialogue proper to Dostoyevski’s first-person novel, but this mutation is itself already a consequence of a more indirect and disturbing cause. Dostoyevski, in the famous cry of The Possessed, was certain that “‘the fire is in the minds of men and not in the roofs of houses’”;9 he believed that only the prior corruption of Russia’s intelligentsia, their eager surrender to the lure of conspiracy and violence, could have led so many of them to the acts of senseless catastrophe, fueled by ressentiment, false pride, and incoherent utopian fantasies, marks all of his most important post-Siberia political and cultural writings.10
· 9. Dostoyevski, The Possessed, trans. Garnett (New York, 1961), p. 533.
· 10. In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevski explicitly states that the future revolution will be made by the Smerdyakovs. In the chapter “Over the Brandy,” for example, Ivan tells his father that Smerdyakov is “a prime candidate” to initiate a revolutionary uprising (BK, p. 120).
See also: Michael André Bernstein, “O Totiens Servus": Saturnalia and Servitude in Augustan Rome · Michael André Bernstein, When the Carnival Turns Bitter: Preliminary Reflections upon the Abject Hero
Michael André Bernstein is professor of English and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of The Tale of the Tribe: Ezra Pound and the Modern Verse Epic (1980) and a book of poetry. His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry is “‘O Totiens Servus’: Saturnalia and Servitude in Augustan Rome” (Spring 1987).
Towards the end of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s fragment ‘The Triumph of Life’ there are some famous lines which raise most of the questions that will concern me in this essay. Never mind, for the moment, the context: the lines I have in mind are these:
“I rose; and, bending at her sweet command,
Touched with faint lips the cup she raised,
And suddenly my brain became as sand
“Where the first wave had more than half erased
The track of deer on desert Labrador,
Whilst the fierce wolf from which they fled amazed
“Leaves his stamp visibly upon the shore
Until the second bursts—so on my sight
Burst a new Vision never seen before.—1
Two kinds of things are happening here which I want to point out. The first is that even as the poem is attempting to represent the mind as passive and the experience of the mind as an empty succession of events, it is also making a quite contrary attempt to represent the mind as active and the succession as a structure. The lines dramatise how a play of mental events, as they are represented in language, may be reprocessed in such a way that some of them come to be classified as interruptions or breaks in the otherwise meaningful sequence composed by the others. As my first paraphrase suggested, it seems to make sense to recast Shelley’s narrative into the story of deer chased by a wolf, a story which is then interrupted by the wave which bursts on the shore and which threatens the coherence of the story by threatening to efface all sin that the deer have passed across the beach, have crossed the mind.
· 1. Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘The Triumph of Life,’ in Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald H. Reiman and Sharon B. Powers (new York, 1977), II. 403-11. The most illuminating reading of these lines is Paul de Man’s in The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York, 1984), pp. 99-100.
John Barrell is professor of English at the University of Sussex and author of a number of books on literature and the visual arts, most recently Poetry, Language and Politics (1988). The Infection of Thomas De Quincey and The Birth of Pandora will be published next year.
Pop and camp nostalgia for the lofty ziggurats, teardrop automobiles, sleek ships of the airstream, and even the alien BEMs (bug-eyed monsters) with imperiled women in their clutches, are one thing; the cyberpunk critique of “wrongheadedness,” whether in Gibson’s elegant fiction or Sterling’s flip criticism, is another. Each provides us with a stylized way of approaching SF’s early formative years, years usually described as “uncritical” in their outlook on technological progress. But neither perspective can give us much sense of the sociohistorical landscape of the thirties on which these gleaming technofantasies were raised. To have some idea of the historical power of what Gibson calls the “Gernsback Continuum,” we need to know more, for example, about the entrepreneurial activities and scientific convictions of Hugo Gernsback himself, a man often termed the “father” of science fiction because he presided over its market specialization as a cultural genre. In Gernsback’s view, SF was more of a social than a literary movement. We need to know more about the hallowed place of engineers and scientists in public consciousness in the years of boom and crisis between the wars, the consolidation of industrial research science at the heart of corporate capitalism, and the redemptive role cast for technology in the drama of national recovery and growth. We also need to know about the traditions of progressive thought that stood behind the often radical technocratic philosophy of progressive futurism in the thirties. My description of North American SF’s period of genre formation will show the crucial influence of the national cults of science, engineering, and invention as well as discuss the role of technocracy in the social thought of the day. I will also consider the ways in which pulp SF escaped or resisted the recruitist role allotted to it not only by shaping figures like Gernsback, who devoted himself directly to enlisting his readers in the cause of “science,” but also by subsequent critics of early SF, including those writers, like Gibson and Sterling, who have lamented its naïve celebration of technological innovation.
See also: R. John Williams, World Futures
Andrew Ross teaches English at Princeton University and is the author of The Failure of Modernism: Symptoms of American Poetry (1986) and No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture (1989). He is also the editor of Universal Abandon?: The Politics of Postmodernism (1988) and the coeditor, with Constance Penley, of Technoculture (forthcoming).
Mitchell: Could we begin by discussing the problem of public art? When we spoke a few weeks ago, you expressed some uneasiness with the notion of public art, and I wonder if you could expand on that a bit.
Kruger: Well, you yourself lodged it as the “problem” of public art and I don’t really find it problematic inasmuch as I really don’t give it very much thought. I think on a broader level I could say that my “problem” is with categorization and naming: how does one constitute art and how does one constitute a public? Sometimes I think that if architecture is a slab of meat, then so-called public art is a piece of garnish laying next to it. It has a kind of decorative function. Now I’m not saying that it always has to be that way—at all—and I think perhaps that many of my colleagues are working to change that now. But all too often, it seems the case.
Mitchell: Do you think of your own art, insofar as it’s engaged with the commercial public sphere—that is, with advertising, publicity, mass media, and other technologies for influencing a consumer public—that it is automatically a form of public art? Or does it stand in opposition to public art?
Kruger: I have a question for you: what is a public sphere which is an uncommercial public sphere?
Barbara Kruger is an artist who works with words and pictures. W. J. T. Mitchell, editor of Critical Inquiry, is Gaylord Donnelly Distinguished Professor of English and art at the University of Chicago.