Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Winter 2006

Volume 32 Issue 2
    • 161Leo Bersani
    • We are neither present in the world nor absent from it. The intelligibility of this assertion will depend on our success in redefining the usual referent of “we,” a success made problematic by the fact that the redefining agency is a function of the very object—or, more properly, subject—to be redefined. We may, however, be encouraged by the thought that both art and psychoanalysis offer ample evidence of the human subject’s aptitude for exceeding its own subjectivity. By that I mean an aptitude for modes of subjecthood in excess of or to the side of the psychic particularities that constitute individualizing subjectivities. Only those modes of subject‐being can both recognize and initiate correspondences between the subject and the world that are free of both an antagonistic dualism between human consciousness and the world it inhabits and the anthropomorphic appropriation of that world. While it seems to me that the most profound originality of psychoanalysis has been that it demands of itself a conceptual account of such correspondences, I also feel that it has largely evaded that demand by misinterpreting itself as a depth psychology. The depsychologizing of psychoanalysis—implicit in Freud and reinitiated, most notably, by Lacan—is imperative if psychoanalysis is to be more than the therapeutically oriented classification of the human subject’s failed communications with the world.

      See also: Leo Bersani, Sociality and Sexuality  ·  Ernesto Laclau, Psychoanalysis and Marxism

      Leo Bersani’s publications include The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art (1986), The Culture of Redemption (1990), Homos (1995), and, in collaboration with Ulysse Dutoit, Caravaggio’s Secrets (1998) and Forms of Being: Cinema, Aesthetics, Subjectivity (2004).

    • 175Bill Brown
    • The calm audacity of the essay resides in the way that Kopytoff deploys the term biography so confidently and imagines “biographical possibilities” so clearly ("CB," p. 66), which he does by beginning his argument about the commodity—the object abstracted through commodification but subsequently individualized—with the example of the slave. However aberrant we take the commodification of humans to be, that process becomes exemplary of commodification itself, although the example shows how commodification, as an explanatory genre, never tells the whole story.

      See also: Bill Brown, Thing Theory  ·  Bill Brown, Counting (Art and Discipline)

      Bill Brown is the Edward Carson Waller Distinguished Service Professor and chair of the department of English at the University of Chicago. Author of The Material Unconscious (1996), A Sense of Things (2003), and editor of Things (2004), he is also a coeditor of Critical Inquiry.

    • 208Anne H. Stevens and Jay Williams
    • Although they often go unnoticed and unread, occasionally footnotes themselves become objects of controversy. Recently a well‐known theorist (who will remain anonymous) submitted an essay to Critical Inquiry that included this footnote: “6. See Jacques Derrida.” It was obviously to be filled in later (or was it?), but one reader, vetting the manuscript for publication, took serious offense. He could not understand how he was to evaluate the merits of the claim in a sentence thus footnoted. Doesn’t the breeziness of the citation, its offhand and seemingly arrogant nature signal that the essay as a whole commits one of the sins of the well‐established author, that is, the need to skip serious, rigorous, time‐consuming research in order to reach for grand and majestic statements? And, if so, why include a footnote at all?

      See also: Susan Gubar, What Ails Feminist Criticism?  ·  Lawrence Lipking, The Marginal Gloss

      Anne H. Stevens is an assistant professor in the department of English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Jay Williams, senior managing editor of Critical Inquiry and publisher/editor of the Jack London Journal, is currently at work on Author under Sail: A History of Jack London’s Life as an Author.

    • 226Slavoj Žižek
    • The basic paradox here is that the specifically human dimension—drive as opposed to instinct—emerges precisely when what was originally a mere by‐product is elevated into an autonomous aim. Man is not more “reflexive”; on the contrary, man perceives as a direct goal what, for an animal, has no intrinsic value. In short, the zero‐degree of being human is not a further “mediation” of animal activity, its reinscription as a subordinated moment of a higher totality (say, we eat and procreate in order to develop higher spiritual potentials), but the radical narrowing of focus, the elevation of a minor activity into an end in itself. We become humans when we get caught in a closed, self‐propelling loop of repeating the same gesture and finding satisfaction in it.

      See also: Slavoj Žižek, Schlagend, aber nicht Treffend!  ·  Slavoj Žižek, Melancholy and the Act

      Slavoj Žižek, dialectical‐materialist philosopher and psychoanalyst, is codirector of the International Center for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London. His latest book is The Parallax View (forthcoming).

    • 250Ruth HaCohen
    • A strand of modernism inheres in this oratorical moment, dissonant as it is—connecting in one and the same time to the past, present, and future of various groups. Many more oratorical moments of individuals and groups, of various intensities and communal meanings transpire in his operas. The discordant strands he chose to develop will be further explored by composers of the modern era, some prominent ones Jews, especially Schoenberg.55 Also the works of composers and writers such as Mahler, Kafka, Kurt Weil, and Freud—to mention but a few—attest to the gradual erosion of former liberal gestures of inclusion, through a series of disrupted oratorical moments. All in all, though the historical sensibility which gave rise to dialogical vocal works lasted only for a short time, it produced a rich array of works that are still part of a living tradition. We are invited to listen to them with criticism, pain, and sympathy.

      · 55. Interestingly, both orthodox and liberal Jews enthusiastically accepted the new music from the school of Salomon Sulzer (1804–1890) in Vienna and of Louis Lewandowski (1821–1894) in Berlin, which “harmonized” the old prayer book, rendering it again a “heritage for the entire community” (Leopold Zunz, Festrede zur Jubelfeier des Herrn L. Lewandowski, in Gesammelte Schriften, 3 vols. [Berlin, 1875], 1:135–44).

      See also: Michael Steinberg, Music and Melancholy  ·  Carolyn Abbate, Music—Drastic or Gnostic?

      Ruth HaCohen is a senior lecturer in musicology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is, with Ruth Katz, coauthor of Tuning the Mind: Connecting Aesthetic Theory to Cognitive Science (2003) and coeditor of The Arts in Mind: Pioneering Texts of a Coterie of British Men of Letters (2003).

    • 278Daniel Dor
    • In April 2005, I was invited by the Central European University in Budapest to give a talk at a workshop convened in memory of the late Edward Said. The workshop was titled “Dissent,” and I was asked to talk about “Dissent in Israel.” As I tried to figure out for myself what I wanted to talk about, I found myself, quite surprisingly, thinking about an old saying—a rhetorical question—made some twenty years ago by an Israeli writer who died a few months after Said and who in more than one respect could be thought of as the direct antithesis to Said—Efraim Kishon. A self‐proclaimed Jewish chauvinist, a European Orientalist of the type that we sometimes think no longer exists, Kishon was nevertheless a comic genius. His books, stories, and films probably provide the most penetrating look at what Israeli society—especially that of the first twenty years after 1948—looked like from within. Kishon’s rhetorical question can be translated as something like this: “Is there anything we might call an Israeli sense of humor, and, if there is, why isn’t there?”

      See also: Sander L. Gilman, Is Life Beautiful? Can the Shoah Be Funny? Some Thoughts on Recent and Older Films

      Daniel Dor teaches in the department of communication at Tel Aviv University. His most recent book is The Suppression of Guilt: The Israeli Media and the Reoccupation of the West Bank (2005).

    • 288Linda Williams
    • Movie kisses were the first sex acts I ever watched on a screen. Before I had my first romantic kiss, I already knew, through movies, a few techniques. I knew that one needed to tilt the head a little to avoid bumping noses, but that if both kissers tilted the same way they would still bump noses, so a complex choreography of bodies had to be worked out in this simple act. I learned from the big screen, where kisses were greatly magnified, when I was allowed to see the Technicolor kisses of Rock Hudson and Doris Day. But I also learned from the little black‐and‐white screen before which my mother and I sat watching TV movies on warm summer nights when I could stay up late. I remember myself at fourteen in 1960 sprawled on the rug directly under the television screen, my mother across the room in her big armchair, both of us riveted to a repertoire of Hollywood kisses performed by luminous stars.

      See also: Linda Williams, Ethnographic Imaginary: The Genesis and Genius of The Wire

      Linda Williams is professor of film studies and rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. Her books include Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible” (1989, 1999) and Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White, from Uncle Tom to O. J. Simpson (2001). Edited works include Reinventing Film Studies (with Christine Gledhill, 2000) and Porn Studies (2004). She is currently writing a book on screening sex at the movies.

    • 341Loren Glass
    • As I hope to show, these battles represented a mechanism, insufficiently appreciated in Anglo‐American literary and cultural history, whereby the champions of high modernism in the academic, journalistic, and publishing community could establish and affirm the authority of their aesthetic standards. These standards had been difficult to legitimize because the modernist texts they were intended to evaluate had not stood the test of time. They had not become “classics” by the only standard widely recognized by the public at large: outliving their authors. Obscenity trials, in this context, functioned as rituals of consecration whereby modernist texts could be affirmed as “classics.” They enabled an alliance between publishers and literary critics that was crucial to providing mainstream acceptance for modernist texts by replacing the test of time with the patina of professionalism.

      See also: Frances Ferguson, Pornography: The Theory  ·  Susan Gubar, Representing Pornography: Feminism, Criticism, and Depictions of Female Violation

      Loren Glass is assistant professor of American literature and cultural studies at the University of Iowa. He is the author of Authors Inc.: Literary Celebrity in the Modern United States, 1880–1980 (2004).

    • 362Frances Ferguson
    • Loren Glass is clearly furious with me. I don’t begin to know how to explain this fact. Perhaps Glass’s remarks about me underscore the importance of Derrida’s observations about how writing is a hostile medium (even before we get to the question of email). Perhaps he was particularly well trained in the find‐a‐scapegoat school of scholarship. Perhaps he is as genuinely indignant as he seems to be that I didn’t conform to his Prussian pluperfect account of what any self‐respecting woman academic beginning her career in 1973 must have thought: “You will have taken all your cues from Kate Millett, Stanley Fish, and Jane Tompkins, and will not have been able to think anything that wasn’t dictated by the surveyor’s marks that might be projected from them. Or else.”

      Frances Ferguson is professor in the department of English and the Humanities Center at Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of Wordsworth: Language as Counter‐Spirit (1977), Solitude and the Sublime: Romanticism and the Aesthetics of Individuation (1992), and Pornography, the Theory: What Utilitarianism Did to Action (2004).

    • 371Loren Glass
    • Let me start by explaining why I engage Ferguson at all. As she legitimately suspects, my article was not originally conceived or designed as a criticism of her book. Rather, I was developing a project on modernism and obscenity when Pornography, the Theory came out. Before I even read it, I knew that it would be an important and original intervention in the field that would be pertinent to my own concerns. When I did read it, I was struck by the degree to which her methodology seemed to render invisible issues and events that I considered to be central to the ongoing debates over pornography. Since Ferguson’s book opens with a discussion of these debates—and since the jacket copy includes Mary Poovey’s prediction that it “will generate controversy” and Leo Bersani’s assumption that it will be “passionately debated”—it seemed legitimate to leverage my discussion partly as a critique of hers.

      Loren Glass is assistant professor of American literature and cultural studies at the University of Iowa. He is the author of Authors Inc.: Literary Celebrity in the Modern United States, 1880–1980 (2004).

    • 375W. J. T. Mitchell
    • Wayne embodied all the virtues to which Critical Inquiry aspires. He was a theorist long before there was anything called theory in the academy, an ethical critic well in advance of the “ethical turn” of the last decade, a generalist who seemed to soar effortlessly above the specialists. He was a pioneer ever in search of the Promised Land called understanding and a skeptic who never allowed himself to rest contentedly with any single solution. He was a pluralist and a pragmatist who loved the play of ideas and the passion of debate, and one of his favorite ploys during a heated editorial argument was to point out that if the article in question was producing such an interesting dispute among the editors, it would surely have the same effect on our readers; therefore, publish it!

    • 377James Redfield
    • Wayne believed that our judgments are properly founded on good reasons, which are the most real things in the universe; once those good reasons have become clear everyone will agree. If agreement has not yet been reached, that means that the good reasons have not become clear yet, and the conversation should continue until they do. There was a certain innocence in this belief, tempered by Wayne's ironic self‐knowledge, best represented by the stories he told against himself.