Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Winter 2010

Volume 36 Issue 2
    • 183Bill Brown
    • Much of the art of the twentieth century renders the Arendtian binary and its predecessors obsolete in two ways: by appropriating ephemeral objects into the artwork and by making art that is itself ephemeral, as though redramatizing worldly instability. But I want to deploy her binary, heuristically, to highlight a paradox within James's essay; for the Stanforth plane has been preserved, after all, that act of preservation having conferred upon it a spectatorial temporality within which its art can be appreciated: “one of the most beautiful” things that James has “seen in London … [the] body … like nothing so much as a long fish.” The paradox closely relates to one that Stocking describes: objects preserved from the past within the museum “are at the same time timeless—removed from history in the very process of embodying it” (“EM,” p. 4). Humans have a certain penchant for preserving their things, all kinds of things. We don't just preserve “art”; we also preserve quotidian artifacts, which is why we have science museums, and space museums, and technology museums, and craft museums, and rock and roll museums, and natural history museums, and why certain objects—an Aldo Rossi tea kettle or a Haida mask, a Tupperware bowl or a ritual bronze Chinese ding—end up in different kinds of museal sites. Above all, I'm interested in the metaleptic effect whereby institutions don't preserve art but rather, through the act of institutional preservation, create art.

      Bill Brown, Edward Carson Waller Professor of English at the University of Chicago, also serves as a member of the Department of Visual Arts, as a fellow at the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory, and as a coeditor of Critical Inquiry. He is the author of The Material Unconscious (1997) and A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature (2003) and the editor of Things (2004), a Critical Inquiry book. He is currently at work on Objects, Others, and Us.

      See also: Bill Brown, Thing Theory  ·  Bill Brown, How to Do Things with Things  ·  Bill Brown, The Tyranny of Things

    • 218John Wilkinson
    • The record of Oppen's attempts to restrict poetic waywardness shows that language survived his strictures to glitter strangely; in the narrow straits where he hammered language according to his will, it showed a resilient tendency to exact its own truths. This was despite Oppen's efforts to oblige language to find him out, to use it as a tool for self‐evidence. Subsequently he found permission in writings by Jacques Maritain and Martin Heidegger to let poetry edge forward into what he did not find himself to have known already, opening into the curved horizon of the needle's eye and risking dissolution into the glitter and shimmer that his poetry produced. Hostility to language placed language under such stress that its elements warped and refracted, opening up space beyond its surfaces.

      John Wilkinson is Research Professor in the Department of English, University of Notre Dame and is the author of The Lyric Touch: Essays on the Poetry of Excess (2007) and numerous volumes of verse, including Down to Earth (2008). He is currently completing a book on the aspiration to epic prerogative discernible in some twentieth‐century American and English lyric poetry.

      See also: Jerome J. McGann on Laura Jackson and George Oppen  ·  Jerome J. McGann on contemporary poetry  ·  Lee Bartlett, What Is "Language Poetry"?

    • 239Edward Baring
    • The history of French Algerian liberalism provides a crucial and much‐neglected context for understanding Derrida's philosophy of deconstruction. Its insights should lead us to reread much of Derrida's later work, when he addressed the question of Algeria more directly. But most importantly, by emphasizing this fraught situation right at the beginning of Derrida's career, it reveals key political stakes in the development of deconstruction that have been effaced. There have been several attempts to contextualize Derrida's thought, and many draw attention to the complexities of his Sephardic Jewish heritage.9 His self‐affiliation to the French Algerian liberals suggests a different, if related, possibility. Torn between a colonial power towards which he felt grave misgivings and a French republican tradition to which he expressed a strong allegiance, Derrida was confronted with questions as to the univocity of identity and the structural limitations of critique—themes that would preoccupy him in his more theoretical writings. Derrida first developed deconstructive ideas during this period, from the tortured political stance of a French Algerian liberal.

      9. See Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, trans. Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, Mass., 1987), pp. 161–81; Judéités: Questions pour Jacques Derrida, ed. Joseph Cohen and Raphael Zagury‐Orly (Paris, 2003); Gideon Ofrat, The Jewish Derrida, trans. Peretz Kidron (Syracuse, N.Y., 2001); and Robert Young, White Mythologies: Writing History and the West (New York, 1990).

      Edward Baring is a lecturer in the Princeton Writing Program. He completed his PhD in the history department at Harvard University in 2009 and is working on a book manuscript entitled The Young Derrida and French Philosophy, 1945–1968.

      See also: Michael Rothberg, Between Auschwitz and Algeria  ·  J. Hillis Miller, Derrida Enisled  ·  Bernard Harrison, 'White Mythology' in Derrida

    • 262Brian Britt
    • My primary concern is not Agamben's reading of Paul but his reading of Walter Benjamin as a Pauline thinker through the lens of Carl Schmitt's political theology. Agamben claims that Benjamin's writings on messianism can be shown, through a set of allusions and quotations, to depend directly on Paul's writings. More specifically, he believes he has discovered a “secret presence of the Pauline text” in Benjamin's last work, “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (T, p. 140). I argue that Agamben misreads and misunderstands Benjamin's messianic thought, projecting a Schmittian model of religion onto Benjamin's conception of tradition. Agamben's specific misreading is the claim that Benjamin's “On the Concept of History” (also known as “Theses on the Philosophy of History” [1940]) is a Pauline messianic text, but it illustrates a broader tendency to inscribe a dualistic map of religion and secularity onto Benjamin's thought. While this essay engages Agamben at the level of textual detail at which he likes to operate, its stakes are nevertheless high: Agamben's project, like that of Badiou, Žižek, and others, engages Christian texts and traditions to address an emerging consensus that secular liberal traditions, along with such trademark ideals of liberty, equality, toleration, and rights, stand in crisis. In response to this crisis, I believe we are witnessing a religious turn in cultural and critical theory in which Benjamin and Schmitt play leading parts.

      Brian Britt is professor of religious studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. In addition to articles in religious studies journals, his work includes two single-authored books, Walter Benjamin and the Bible (1996) and Rewriting Moses: The Narrative Eclipse of the Text (2004), and the coedited volume (with Alexandra Cuffel) Religion, Gender, and Culture in the Pre-Modern World (2007). He is completing a study of biblical curses and their modern legacy.

      See also: Amy Hollywood, Saint Paul and the New Man  ·  Slavoj Žižek, Melancholy and the Act  ·  Horst Bredekamp, From Walter Benjamin to Carl Schmitt

    • 288Lydia H. Liu
    • The figure of the cybernetic machine is what mediates Lacan's initial speculations about the relationship between the symbolic and the real and underlies his argument that “the very notion of probability and chance presupposes the introduction of a symbol into the real” (E, p. 182). He suggests further that “only in the dimension of truth can something be hidden” like all games of chance (E, pp. 201–2). This is an important point because what gets hidden in Poe's game of even and odd is not one or two pieces of marble but numerical symbols, and, by the same token, that which sets things in motion in “The Purloined Letter” is not the physical letter per se but the game of truth initiated by the chain of symbols in the communication machine. Lacan discovers a symbolic order in the game of even and odd that greatly exceeds the innocuous content of Poe's tale. The sessions leading up to his discussion of “The Purloined Letter” make it perfectly clear that the game of even and odd does not stand alone in Lacan's analysis when such analysis comes already framed by a series of ongoing discussions on the “adding machines,” “thinking machines,” and other machines that play the games of even and odd “within the limit of a certain strategy” (E, p. 178).

      Lydia H. Liu is W. T. Tam Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. She teaches in the department of East Asian Languages and Cultures and at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. Her most recent book is The Clash of Empires (2004), and she is the author of a forthcoming book titled The Freudian Robot: Digital Writing and the Future of the Unconscious.

      See also: Lydia H. Liu, iSpace: Printed English after Joyce, Shannon, and Derrida  ·  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank, Shame in the Cybernetic Fold  ·  Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan, Jakobson, Lévi-Strauss, and the Cybernetic Apparatus

    • 321John Guillory
    • The word media hints at a rich philological history extending back to the Latin medius, best exemplified in the familiar narrative topos of classical epic: in medias res. Yet the path by which this ancient word for “middle” came to serve as the collective noun for our most advanced communication technologies is difficult to trace. The philological record informs us that the substantive noun medium was rarely connected with matters of communication before the later nineteenth century. The explosive currency of this word in the communicative environment of modernity has relegated the genesis of the media concept to a puzzling obscurity. This essay is an attempt to give an account of this genesis within the longer history of reflection on communication.

      It is not my purpose, then, to enter into current debates in media theory but to describe the philosophical preconditions of media discourse. I argue that the concept of a medium of communication was absent but wanted for the several centuries prior to its appearance, a lacuna in the philosophical tradition that exerted a distinctive pressure, as if from the future, on early efforts to theorize communication. These early efforts necessarily built on the discourse of the arts, a concept that included not only “fine” arts such as poetry and music but also the ancient arts of rhetoric, logic, and dialectic. The emergence of the media concept in the later nineteenth century was a response to the proliferation of new technical media—such as the telegraph and phonograph—that could not be assimilated to the older system of the arts. While I am only indirectly concerned in this essay with the history of technical media as such, I set out from the observation that the development of new technical media perplexed thereafter the relation between the traditional arts and media of any kind. [...]

      John Guillory is Julius Silver Professor of English at New York University. He is the author of Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (1993) and other works on the history of literary study and on topics in Renaissance literature. He is currently at work on two books: Literary Study in the Age of Professionalism and Things of Heaven and Earth: Figures of Philosophy in English Renaissance Writing.

      See also: John Guillory, The Memo and Modernity  ·  Miriam Hansen, Why Media Aesthetics?  ·  Miriam Hansen, Benjamin’s Aura