Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Winter 1999

Volume 25 Issue 2
    • 199Winfried Menninghaus
    • The publication of the first volume of the three-volume Harvard edition represents a landmark in the American reception of Walter Benjamin's works.1 Given the high percentage of major essays and other material hitherto untranslated, this long-overdue edition is very likely to alter the American reception of Benjamin. Even though devoted Benjamin scholars in this country have always looked beyond the limited range of works available in translation, the "American" Benjamin consisted first and fore-most of the famous late texts on aura and technical reproduction, on film and photography. By contrast, even the most outstanding achievements of the earlier Benjamin-namely, his groundbreaking dissertation The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism and the essay "Goethe's Elective Affinities"-were until now virtually nonexistent for American readers without an excellent command of German or unequipped to embark on an ambitious detour through Italian, French, or Spanish translations.

      · 1. See Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, 1913-1926, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, Mass., 1996).

      Winfried Menninghaus is professor at the Institut für Allgemeine und Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft (Freie Universität Berlin). He is the author of, among other works, Walter Benjamins Theorie der Sprachmagie (1980), Paul Celan: Magie der Form (1980), Schwellenkunde: Walter Benjamins Passage des Mythos (1986), and Lob des Unsinns: Uber Kant, Tieck, und Blaubart (1995).

    • 201Shoshana Felman
    • It is customary to view Benjamin essentially as an abstract philosopher, a critic and a thinker of modernity (and/or of postmodernity) in culture and in art. In contradistinction to this dominant approach, I propose to look at Benjamin far more specifically and more concretely as a thinker, a philosopher, and a narrator of the wars and revolutions of the twentieth century. "Wars and revolutions," writes Hannah Arendt, "have thus far determined the physiognomy of the twentieth century. And as distinguished from the nineteenth-century ideologies—such as nationalism and internationalism, capitalism and imperialism, socialism and communism, which, though still invoked by many as justifying causes, have lost contact with the major realities of our world—war and revolution ... have outlived all their ideological justifications."5

      · 5. Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (Harmondsworth, 1990), p. 11; hereafter abbreviated OR.

      See also: Shoshana Felman, Theaters of Justice: Arendt in Jerusalem, the Eichmann Trial, and the Redefinition of Legal Meaning in the Wake of the Holocaust  · Shoshana Felman, Paul de Man's Silence

      Shoshana Felman is the Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Yale University. She is the author of The Literary Speech Act: Don Juan with Austin, or Seduction in Two Languages (1984), Writing and Madness: Literature/Philosophy/Psychoanalysis (1985), Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight (1987), and What Does a Woman Want? Reading and Sexual Difference (1993). She is also the editor of Literature and Psychoanalysis: The Question of Reading—Otherwise (1982) and coauthor, with Dori Laub, of Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History (1992).

    • 235Stanley Cavell
    • A sense of affinity between Benjamin and Wittgenstein helped pro-duce the signals in my subtitle, when, with the memory in my head of Benjamin's frequently cited letter to Scholem (17 April 1931) in which he expresses a phantasm of his writing as a call or signal for rescue from the top of the crumbling mast of a sinking ship,2 I came upon a piece of his with the title "Program for a Proletarian Children's Theater" containing these sentences: "Almost every child's gesture is command and signal," and "it is the task of the director to rescue the children's signals out of the dangerous magic realm of mere fantasy and to bring them to bear on the material."3 One hardly knows whether Benjamin is there identifying more with the director than with the child, whose world Benjamin of course enters elsewhere as well (apart from his interest in the history of children's books, I cite Jeffrey Mehlman's fascinating Walter Benjamin for Children: An Essay on His Radio Years).4 And I know of no other major philosophical sensibility of this century who attaches comparable importance to the figure of the child with the exception of Wittgenstein in the Investigations, which opens with Augustine's portrait of himself as a child stealing language from his elders, an autobiographical image that haunts every move in Wittgenstein's drive to wrest language back from what he calls metaphysics, and what we might perhaps still call the absolute.5

      · 2. See Benjamin, letter to Gershom Scholem, 17 Apr. 1931, The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin, 1892-1940, trans. Manfred R. Jacobson and Evelyn M. Jacobson, ed. Scholem and Theodor W. Adorno (Chicago, 1994), p. 378.

      · 3. Benjamin, "Program for a Proletarian Children's Theater," in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, trans. Don Reneau et al., ed. Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg (Berkeley, 1994), p. 233.

      · 4. See Jeffrey Mehlman, Walter Benjamin for Children: An Essay on His Radio Years (Chicago, 1993).

      · 5. See Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 3rd ed., trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (London, 1958), for example, §47; hereafter abbreviated PI.

      See also: Stanley Cavell, Ugly Duckling, Funny Butterfly: Bette Davis and "Now, Voyager"  ·  Stanley Cavell, Postscript (1989): To Whom It May Concern

      Stanley Cavell is the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value (emeritus) at Harvard University. He is the author, most recently, of Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman (1996), Philosophical Passages: Wittgenstein, Emerson, Austin, Derrida (1995), and A Pitch of Philosophy: Autobiographical Exercises (1994).

    • 267Fredric Jameson
    • Ours is an antitheoretical time, which is to say an anti-intellectual time; and the reasons for this are not far to seek. The system has always under-stood that ideas and analysis, along with the intellectuals who practice them, are its enemies and has evolved various ways of dealing with the situation, most notably—in the academic world—by railing against what it likes to call grand theory or master narratives at the same time that it fosters more comfortable and local positivisms and empiricisms in the various disciplines. If you attack the concept of totality, for example, you are less likely to confront embarrassing models and analyses of that totality called late capitalism or capitalist globalization; if you promote the local and the empirical, you are less likely to have to deal with the abstractions of class or value, without which the system cannot be understood. There are several famous precedents in the diagnosis of this antitheoretical strategy: I think, for example of Perry Anderson's epoch-making "Origins of the Present Crisis" of 1964, in which he denounced the empiricisms of the Anglo-American tradition as so many defense mechanisms in the face of a world reality in full political and revolutionary upheaval; more recently, of Paul de Man's "The Resistance to Theory,:' which evokes the terror of the seam between meaning and matter; or of Theodor Adorno's late crusade against what he called positivism in gen-eral, in other words, the systematic elimination of the negative and the critical, of theory defined as negation, from modern thought and every-day life.

      See also: Fredric Jameson, The Symbolic Inference; Or, Kenneth Burke and Ideological Analysis  ·  Fredric Jameson, Ideology and Symbolic Action

      Fredric Jameson is professor of French and comparative literature at Duke University. His recent works include The Seeds of Time (1994), The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998 (1998), and The Cultures of Globalization (1998), coedited with Masao Miyoshi.

    • 289Rosalind E. Krauss
    • This essay is about looking back: looking back at the path that led to the triumphant postwar convergence of art and photography that began in the 1960s, but looking at it from this moment at the end of the twentieth century when such a "triumph" must be bracketed by the circum-stance that now photography can only be viewed through the undeniable fact of its own obsolescence.1 It is as well about looking back at the theorization of this aesthetic convergence in the hands of all those poststructuralist writers who were themselves considering the historical reach of its operations by looking back at Walter Benjamin's announcement of its effect in his "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." It will be significant, further, that though Benjamin's text was interpreted in all the thrust of its predictive and positive orientation to the future, his own favorite posture was that of looking back, whether in imitation of the surrealists' connection to the outmoded discards of recent history, or in the guise of Klee's Angelus Novus, who greets historical progress only by looking backwards at the storm of its destruction.

      · 1. Art and photography first converged in the 1920s, in Soviet photomontage practices and in the dada and then surrealist integration of photography into the very heart of their movements. In this sense the postwar phenomenon is a reconvergence, although it was the first to affect the market for "high art" itself in a significant way.

      See also:  Diarmuid Costello, Automat, Automatic, Automatism: Rosalind Krauss and Stanley Cavell on Photography and the Photographically Dependent Arts  ·  Richard Grusin, Radical Mediation

      Rosalind E. Krauss is professor of art history at Columbia University. Her latest books are Picasso Papers (1998) and Bachelors (1999).

    • 306Miriam Bratu Hansen
    • More than any other contemporary film practice, Hong Kong cinema seems to me to resonate with Benjamin's efforts to theorize mass-mediated modernity, with its twin etiologies of technical reproduction and capitalist consumption. To paraphrase Benjamin in the most general terms, these efforts concern the impact of the industrially altered environment on the human sensorium, the epochal restructuring of subjectivity and collectivity, the crisis of the aesthetic, and the conditions of possibility for postauratic forms of experience and memory, intersubjectivity and agency. Hong Kong films of the last decade, with the clock ticking toward the 1997 handover, reformulate these concerns for an age of digital, gene, and transplant technologies; of accelerated speed, escalated violence, and refined mechanisms of power; of globalized economies and new, at once local and transnational, media publics.

      See also: Miriam Bratu Hansen, Benjamin's Aura  ·  Bill Brown, How to Do Things with Things (A Toy Story)

      Miriam Bratu Hansen is Ferdinand Schevill Distinguished Service Professor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago, where she also chairs the Committee on Cinema and Media Studies. She is the author of Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film (1991) and is completing a book on the Frankfurt school's debates on cinema, mass culture, and modernity.

    • 344Geoffrey H. Hartman
    • That wonder, at the same time, does not dissolve into either specialized knowledge or philosophy, although the pressure of conceptualization is always there, and philosophy is acknowledged to be a sibling of the work of art, useful in questioning art's strangeness, its combination of intimacy and discretion. Yet while art remains central as a structure of feeling, Benjamin sees it changing according to contemporary social and economic conditions. Art is no longer quite the cultural value it was; he is not tempted to say to it, in its singularity, charm, or in situ monumentality, "Verweile doch, du bist so schön."

      See also: Geoffrey H. Hartman, Literary Criticism and Its Discontents  ·  Geoffrey H. Hartman, Homage to Glas

      Geoffrey H. Hartman is Sterling Professor of English and Comparative Literature Emeritus at Yale University. His recent books include The Fateful Question of Culture (1997) and The Longest Shadow: In the Aftermath of the Holocaust (1996).

    • 353Gershom Scholem and Eric J. Schwab
    • A natural point of departure for contemplating the Book of Jonah can be found in its exceptional position within the books of the Old Testament canon. Along with the Book of Micah this book stands in the middle of the books of the twelve minor prophets. All of the other writings in the prophetic canon differ from the Book of Jonah in that they contain essentially the prophecies and speeches of the prophets themselves; nowhere is any noticeable biographical interest taken in the prophet, the medium of the divine word. These books do not speak of prophecy, rather prophecy itself speaks. By contrast, the Book of Jonah contains no extensive prophecies whatsoever, and considered from this viewpoint its contents would be exhausted by chapter 3, verse 4b. Thus a superficial consideration might sooner expect this book to appear in the third part of the canon among the hagiographies-as it obviously seems to contain an episode from the life of a prophet, in the same way that the books of Esther and Ruth are episodes-but not in the middle of the prophetic writings. Why is it placed nevertheless at its present position, and what are the ideas and teaching of this book?

      Gershom Scholem (1897-1982) was the founder of modern studies of Jewish mysticism and a close friend and correspondent of Walter Benjamin. Scholem's works include On the Kabbala and Its Symbolism (1965), The Messianic Idea in Judaism (1971), and the memoir From Berlin to Jerusalem (1980).

    • 362Robyn Wiegman
    • Rudeness as rape? Rudeness as murder? Cross's feminist betrayal scene foregrounds a tension emerging within academic feminism between one generation's critique of patriarchal masculinism and another's interest in a self-reflexive articulation of differences among women.2 In "Murder without a Text," these differences are simultaneously generational, methodological, and disciplinary, which is to say, they predict some of the most powerful anxieties that motivate "What Ails Feminist Criticism?" In both texts, divisions among women are cast in relation to issues of disciplinary rigor and authority: Sterling assumes the priority of archival over ethnographic methods, while Gubar stages her reading of academic feminism through the lens of feminist literary criticism. These disciplinary points of view not only define the questions asked of feminism but condition from the outset the way each piece conceives of feminist knowledge, its academic intervention, and all future relations between the "originating" generation and its unruly successors.

      Robyn Wiegman is director of women's studies at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of American Anatomies: Theorizing Race and Gender (1995), coeditor of Feminism beside Itself (1995) and Who Can Speak? Authority and Critical Identity (1995), and editor of AIDS and the National Body (1997). She is currently editing a collection, Locating Feminism: The Politics of Women's Studies, and completing a manuscript on interdisciplinary knowledge formations. Her textbook, Literature and Gender, will appear in 1999.

    • 380Susan Gubar
    • Robyn Wiegman's response to "What Ails Feminist Criticism?" gives me the opportunity to amplify a number of points in a way the genre of the journal article generally prohibits, and so I thank her for writing it. I am grateful, too, for her piquant decision to begin with a murder mystery by my dear friend and mentor Carolyn Heilbrun, although (I hasten to add) I had no wish to bludgeon to death the critics whose language I took to task! For just as "Murder without a Text" situates interfeminist frustration within a classroom, I composed "What Ails Feminist Criticism?" as a reaction to distressing experiences that occurred within some of my graduate seminars.

      Susan Gubar is Distinguished Professor of English and Women's Studies at Indiana University. With Sandra M. Gilbert, she is coauthor of The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (1979) as well as its three-volume sequel, No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century (1988-94), and coeditor of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women. Her most recent publication is Racechanges: White Skin, Black Face in American Culture (1997).