Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Winter 2012

Volume 38 Issue 2
    • 241W. J. T. Mitchell
    • Was the killing of Osama a form of poetic justice? Perhaps. But we should specify exactly what kind of poetry. There is a literary genre that goes back to Seneca and the Romans, perfected by Shakespeare, and Americanized in both the practice of lynching and in the Hollywood western. It's called the revenge tragedy, and it invariably involves cries of “justice” accompanied by terrible acts of violence, which often result in the destruction of the avenger along with his victim.

      W. J. T. Mitchell is professor of English and art history at the University of Chicago and has been editor of Critical Inquiry since 1978. He is the author of Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (1987), Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (1995), and What Do Pictures Want : The Lives and Loves of Images (2006), a loosely linked trilogy on media, visual culture, and image theory. His most recent book is Cloning Terror: The War of Images, 9-11 to the Present. His next book, Seeing through Race is forthcoming in 2012.

      See also: W. J. T. Mitchell, 911: Criticism and Crisis  ·  W. J. T. Mitchell, Picturing Terror  ·  Bruce Holsinger, Empire, Apocalypse, and the 9/11 Premodern

    • 250Elias Khoury
    • Literature is not and cannot be a historical reference, and all the novels and poems, both Israeli and Palestinian, that relate fragments of the nakba can't be treated as documents, but they can be conceived as mirrors of trends in the ideological scene. Knowing that these mirrors are part of the history of the genre, one must not neglect literary tendencies and schools of thought. In this sense we can't study the early works of Oz and Yehoshua and Kanafani without understanding the huge impact of French existentialism on the world literary scene. On the other hand the ideological approaches, the Canaanite movement in Israel, and the revival of Marxist realism in the Arab world give us a better understanding of the works of Tammuz, Kanafani, and Emile Habibi.

      Elias Khoury is a Lebanese novelist and the editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies. He is Global Distinguished Professor in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at New York University. Novels that have been translated into English include Little Mountain (1977), The Gates of the City (1981), The Journey of Little Gandhi (1989), The Kingdom of Strangers (1993), Gate of the Sun (1998), Yalo (2002), and As Though She Were Sleeping (2011).

      See also: Hannan Hever, The Post-Zionist Condition  ·  Saree Makdisi, Said, Palestine, and the Humanism of Liberation  ·  Edward W. Said, Invention, Memory, and Place

    • 267Meir Wigoder
    • The topic of my essay is Palestinian morgue photography in the wake of the Israeli air strikes and the ground invasion of Gaza, during Operation Cast Lead. I especially focus on a fashionable angle that is prevalent among the local Palestinian press-photographers.  I term it the acrobatic gaze: from the heights of the fridges in the morgue the photographers try to be omniscient absently-present witnesses that are capable of combining in a single composition both the faces of the standing relatives and the faces of the supine bodies. These photographs raise ethical, aesthetical, and political questions about the representation of the dead who are displayed to their families and to the photographers for propaganda reasons as well.

      Meir Wigoder, a photography theorist and a practicing photographer, teaches at the School of Communication at Sapir College, Sderot and in the David and Yolanda Katz Faculty of the Arts at Tel Aviv University. This article is part of his forthcoming book on the pensive viewer and the thought-image in photography.

      See also: Michael Fried, Barthes’s Punctum  ·  Ariella Azoulay, Potential History: Thinking through Violence  ·  Edward W. Said, Invention, Memory, and Place

    • 289Gavin Arnall, Laura Gandolfi, Enea Zaramella, Jacues Rancière
    • In this interview, Jacques Rancière describes the character of the aesthetic regime and the relationship between politics and aesthetics in his work, along with the role of artistic practices, technological innovations, and the institution of the museum in the redistribution of the sensible and the similarities and differences between his theories and Walter Benjamin’s work on modernity.  Rancière argues that the aesthetic regime entails both a rupture with what came before it and the possibility of recycling and reinterpreting works of the past, what Benjamin described as the surrealist practice of evoking the outmoded.  While emphasizing the political and military preconditions to the aesthetic regime over technological or economic considerations, Rancière also warns against drawing strict parallels between aesthetic regimes and political presuppositions of equality or inequality.  Furthermore, Rancière refuses to privilege Marcel Duchamp’s readymades in the aesthetic regime’s redistribution of the sensible, pointing, instead, to Emile Zola’s Le ventre de Paris and the creation of the modern institution of the museum as key moments that broke with preexisting distributions of the sensible.  Rancière also distinguishes his discussion of novelistic realism and narration from Benjamin’s characterization of modernity as the decline in the ability to narrate experience, critiquing Benjamin’s nostalgia for the past while recognizing as fruitful his linking of new possibilities in aesthetic experience to the creation of new technologies.

      Jacques Rancière is emeritus professor at University of Paris VIII, where he taught in the philosophy department from 1968 to 2000, and visiting professor in several American universities. Among his works recently translated into English are The Emancipated Spectator (2010), Aesthetics and Its Discontents (2009), The Politics of Literature (2011), and Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics (2010). Gavin Michael Arnall is a PhD candidate in comparative literature at Princeton University. His current work focuses on the transformation of Marxism in Argentina, Martinique, and Peru. Laura Gandolfi is a PhD candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Princeton University. She is currently working on her thesis, “Objects on Paper: Literature, Material Culture, and Advertising in Nineteenth-Century Latin America.” Enea Zaramella is a PhD candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Princeton University. He is the author of the essays “Poder y deshumanización del sujeto en El Apando de José Revueltas” and “La circolarità come scandalo della vita e dell'erotismo: Memorias de mis putas tristes.”

      See also: Jacques Rancière, Aesthetics against Incarnation  ·  Jacques Rancière, Aesthetics, Politics, Knowledge  ·  Richard Halpern, Theater and Democratic Thought

    • 298Richard Moran
    • Beauty is a contested concept insofar as it seeks to mark a categorical distinction among the sources of pleasure, typically in terms of oppositions such as objective/subjective, universal/particular, necessity/contingency.  Kant represents a culmination of this tradition in defining the judgment of beauty in terms of the requirement for universal agreement, modeling the judgment of beauty as closely as possible to ordinary factual judgments.   A different tradition of thinking about beauty, however, while still seeking to mark a categorical distinction by reference to the idea of necessity, finds the relevant sense of necessity not in conditions of agreement but necessities of erotic love and the sense of requirement felt toward its objects.  This paper explores the consequences of taking this other tradition seriously, using Proust as a representative exemplar, as a way both of making sense of some of the features Kant ascribes to the concept of the beautiful, while avoiding the paradoxes stemming from his focus on the conditions for universal agreement.

      Richard Moran is the Brian D. Young Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is the author of Authority and Estrangement: An essay on self-knowledge. He is completing Self-Expression and the Modes of Address, a book on intersubjectivity in the acts of speaking and telling.

      See also: Carlo Ginzburg, Minutiae, Close‐up, Microanalysis  ·  Jacques Rancière, Aesthetics, Politics, Knowledge  ·  Jerome McGann, Beauty, the Irreal, and the Willing Assumption of Disbelief

    • 330Adélékè Adéè̇ó
    • A new line of self projection magazines that started blooming in Lagos, Nigeria, about the mid-1990s defined itself by filling almost completely every issue with photographs that depict politicians, businesspeople, sports and show business stars enjoying fruits of their extraordinary achievements on festive occasions. The magazine’s cozy coverage of the rich and famous irks a lot of serious cultural and literary critics who believe that this style resembles praise singing too closely. This paper, unlike mainline criticisms of the pictorial magazines, takes praise singing to be a serious subject. Its central proposition is that the Nigerian magazine culture embraced these magazines because they have successfully translated into photography the panegyric tendency that pervades popular, self-projection arts in the underlying Yorùbá cultural environment of southwestern Nigeria. The sub-genre of Yorùbá panegyric that the magazines rework into the photographic medium is oríkì bọ̀rọ̀kìnní, or praise chants of the eminent. The paper analyzes sample issues of Ovation magazine to outline ways of placing contemporary African cultural forms in a long perspective and to propose an example of how inter-mediality operates today in popular cultures. In the concluding section, the essay proposes that a “poetic” understanding of photography, as opposed to “theatricality” and or melancholic substitution, represents the best way to think about the type of festive portraiture practiced in Ovationand its imitators.

      Adélékè Adé̇è̇ó is Humanities Distinguished Professor in the English and African American and African Studies departments at Ohio State University. He is the author of Proverbs, Textuality, and Nativism in African Literature (1998) and The Slave's Rebellion: Literature, History, Orature (2005). His current research is on praise culture in Lagos, Nigeria, and animist poetics in African American poetry.

      See also: Hans Belting, Image, Medium, Body  ·  Elizabeth Abel, Photography, Cinema, and the Segregated Theater  ·  Kwame Anthony Appiah, Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?

    • 362Alain Badiou
    • A. J. Bartlett and Justin Clemens respond with perfect precision and polite irony to the conjoined attack on my philosophical construction by Ricardo Nirenberg and David Nirenberg. I have nothing to add to this response, all the more definitive for being clear, informed, calm, and independent, whereas the polemic opened by the Nirenbergs is obscure, ignorant, and impassioned and depends from one end to the other on political convictions that, contrary to my own, remain concealed.

      Alain Badiou is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure and teaches at the College International de Philosophie in Paris. In addition to several novels, plays, and political essays, he is the author of Being and Event (2005), Theory of the Subject (2009), and Logics of Worlds, 2 (2009). He is currently translating Plato's Republic into French.

      See also: Ricardo L. Nirenberg and David Nirenberg, Badiou's Number: A Critique of Mathematics as Ontology

    • 365A. J. Bartlett, Justin Clemens
    • A. J. Bartlett is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Faculty of Art at the University of Melbourne. He is the author of Badiou and Plato: An Education by Truths (2011) and, with Justin Clemens, is the editor of The Praxis of Alain Badiou (2006) and Alain Badiou: Key Concepts (2010). Justin Clemens is senior lecturer in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. Recent publications include The Jacqueline Rose Reader (2011), coedited with Ben Naparstek, and Alain Badiou: Key Concepts (2010), coedited with A. J. Bartlett. A collection of his writings on art has been published as Minimal Domination (2011).

      See also: Ricardo L. Nirenberg and David Nirenberg, Badiou's Number: A Critique of Mathematics as Ontology

    • 381By Ricardo L. Nirenberg, David Nirenberg
    • “But what a disappointment!” writes Alain Badiou (Alain Badiou, “To Preface the Response to the ‘Criticisms’ of Ricardo Nirenberg and David Nirenberg,” Critical Inquiry 38 [Winter 2012]: 362–64). As we read the words that he and his defenders, A. J. Bartlett and Justin Clemens, have produced in reaction to our essay, we can only echo the sentiment. We can understand that a man who feels the world to be full of his “enemies—who are very numerous,” cannot afford his critics' considered engagement (p. 362). Nevertheless we are surprised by the tone of his and his supporters' interventions. It is for the reader, not the participants, to decide who in this debate is more precise, “polite,” “informed, calm, and independent,” and who “obscure, ignorant, and impassioned” (p. 362). But perhaps it would be helpful to that reader if we reply to the respondents' main complaints against us.

      Ricardo L. Nirenberg is a retired mathematician and the editor of the literary journal His latest book is the novel Wave Mechanics: A Love Story (2008). David Nirenberg is the Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Professor of Medieval History and Social Thought in the Department of History and the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. His most recent book is (with Herbert Kessler) Judaism and Christian Art: Aesthetic Anxieties from the Catacombs to Colonialism (2011). The authors are father and son.

      See also: Ricardo L. Nirenberg and David Nirenberg, Badiou's Number: A Critique of Mathematics as Ontology

    • 388Paul Bloom
    • The most popular leisure activity is not sex, eating, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, socializing with friends, participating in sports, or relaxing with the family. Rather, when we are free to do what we want, our most popular choice is indulging in pleasures of the imagination. We immerse ourselves in other worlds—including those of our own creation, as when we daydream and fantasize, and those created by others, as with movies, video games, television (about three hours a day for the average American), and literature. From an evolutionary perspective, this is a puzzle. One would expect us to be motivated to spend our valuable time eating and drinking and fornicating, establishing relationships, building shelter, and teaching our children. Instead, three-year-olds are transfixed by the little engine that could, young parents hide from their three-year-olds to read novels, and many men spend more time viewing internet pornography than interacting with real women. These tastes are universal; humans everywhere, including those in small-scale societies, are obsessed with imaginative pursuits, including the production and consumption of fictional stories.1

      1. See Paul Bloom, How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like (New York, 2010), pp. 155–76.

      Paul Bloom is professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University.

      See also: Jonathan Kramnick, Against Literary Darwinism

    • 394Brian Boyd
    • Jonathan Kramnick understands “literary Darwinists” differently: as committed to (1) a narrow and controversial evolutionary psychology, whose controversial nature we ignore; (2) an untenable modular view of the mind, whose modules were shaped in the Pleistocene and have not changed since; (3) the adaptive value of a modular “literary competence”; and beyond that (4) a purely thematic approach to literature incapable of attending to form, variation, or history.3 I do not recognize our work in his version.

      3. See Jonathan Kramnick, “Against Literary Darwinism,” Critical Inquiry 37 (Winter 2011): 315–47; hereafter abbreviated “ALD.”

      Brian Boyd, University Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Auckland, is best known as a Nabokov scholar (eight solo books, including a two-volume biography, and eight edited volumes). Since 2000 he has also worked on evolutionary approaches to literature, including On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction (2009) and the coedited Evolution, Literature, and Film: A Reader (2010). He has completed a follow-up to On the Origin of Stories, on Shakespeare's sonnets and lyric verse in general, entitled Why Lyrics Last: Evolution, Cognition, and Shakespeare's Sonnets (2012), and is also working on On the Ends of Stories.

      See also: Jonathan Kramnick, Against Literary Darwinism

    • 405Joseph Carroll
    • We've never met. A friend sent me a link to your article “Against Literary Darwinism.”1 Naturally, I disagree with you on many of the details of your piece, but here I would draw your attention to only one important point. I think you make a large factual error in your core argument. You lump all the “literary Darwinists” together and associate them all with an early and fairly narrow form of evolutionary psychology. You argue that the central error in literary Darwinism is in identifying literature as an adaptation, and you seem half consciously to assume that adaptive must mean “modular.” That's a mistake.

      1. See Jonathan Kramnick, “Against Literary Darwinism,” Critical Inquiry 37 (Winter 2011): 315–47; hereafter abbreviated “ALD.”

      Joseph Carroll is Curators' Professor of English, University of Missouri, St. Louis. In addition to authoring monographs on Matthew Arnold and Wallace Stevens, he is author of Evolution and Literary Theory (1995), Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature (2004), and Reading Human Nature: Literary Darwinism in Theory and Practice (2011). He produced an edition of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species (2003), coedited the first two annual volumes of The Evolutionary Review: Art, Science, Culture (2010, 2011), and coedited Evolution, Literature, and Film: A Reader (2010).

      See also: Jonathan Kramnick, Against Literary Darwinism

    • 411Vanessa L. Ryan
    • Reading the work of literary Darwinists—including Joseph Carroll, Brian Boyd, and Jonathan Gottschall—might lead a Victorianist to an uncanny feeling of familiarity: Have I seen these arguments before? Affinities between nineteenth-century debates of the place of literature in scientific investigations and today's debate about the place of evolutionary psychology in the study of literature are striking. The mid-Victorian discussions were shaped by the rise of evolutionary theory and the emergence of psychology as a discipline, developments that remain central to the work of literary Darwinists in our own day. Indeed, many literary Darwinists and the inspiration behind their movement, E. O. Wilson, are steeped in Victorian thinking; their commitment to a “Darwinian” approach is only one element in their larger endeavor. Their call for consilience between science and the humanities strongly echoes the Victorian search for a holistic conception of science. Is their return to Darwin's ideas also a return to a Victorian approach to science and literature?

      Vanessa L. Ryan is assistant professor of English at Brown University, specializing in nineteenth-century British literature and culture. She has recently completed a book entitled Thinking without Thinking in the Victorian Novel (forthcoming) that examines the pivotal role played by fiction in mid-nineteenth-century debates about the new sciences of the mind.

      See also: Jonathan Kramnick, Against Literary Darwinism

    • 418G. Gabrielle Starr
    • Many humanists are quite simply hostile to the idea that any method from the modern sciences can tell us anything about objects of humanist inquiry. Such hostility is often returned, as Jonathan Kramnick astutely describes, by scholars who argue that humanist scholarship has lost its way and can only be rescued by the intervention of scientific method. Polemic is one thing; scholarship is another, and indeed there actually is—or could be—an interesting debate here, one that Kramnick has most recently opened in Critical Inquiry.1 The debate ought to be of broad interest within literary scholarship. Kramnick is right that, so far, it has not; vituperative discourse is partly to blame, but we shouldn't close the books quickly. A rigorous debate might begin with literary Darwinism, but it ought, properly, to reach beyond it, and such a debate is overdue. It would address possible future paths for humanist scholarship. It might address the disciplinary fragmentation brought about by increasingly narrow specializations in humanist inquiry. It might address the standards of evidence we use in making arguments in literary scholarship. It might require that we think anew about what we mean by the idea of culture. It might require that we discuss how literary scholars approach ideas of normativity around questions of interpretation, reading, and readerly response. It might also address what it means when we say we read a poem or see a painting. It might ask about the relationships possible between literary scholarship and quantitative methods, as well as between literary scholarship and the sciences. It might ask that we think about the possibilities and demands of collaborative work across that greatest of disciplinary divides. And it would most certainly get to the heart of what we understand humanists to do when we produce new knowledge in our scholarship.

      1. See Jonathan Kramnick, “Against Literary Darwinism,” Critical Inquiry 37 (Winter 2011): 315–47.

      G. Gabrielle Starr is associate professor of English at New York University. She is the author of Lyric Generations: Novel and Poetry in the Long Eighteenth Century (2004).

      See also: Jonathan Kramnick, Against Literary Darwinism

    • 426Blakey Vermeule
    • Which would you rather receive: a nice but clueless review of your book or a hostile but informed one? (Nice and informed, and clueless and hostile are not options, alas.) I personally would prefer the latter. By taking literary Darwinism seriously (as few other humanists do), Jonathan Kramnick does the field a great service. Most humanists see literary Darwinism as a guerilla movement that, drawing support from irredentist elements of science and the popular press, aims to bring down their citadel. Kramnick wades into the jungle to see what the guerillas are doing. He brings back a serious, mostly respectful report. He has read the major texts and makes a strong case for why their claims fall short. This is scholarship of a high order. I admire his accomplishment. Although I disagree with his premises and arguments, I agree with his conclusions. This may seem odd. Kramnick does not think that evolutionary psychology offers an adequate account of the human mind. I do. But like Kramnick, I believe that evolutionary psychology is very far from offering a compelling account of particular products of the human imagination. To the extent that Kramnick can prevent Darwinism from becoming just another “approach” to literary study, I heartily applaud his efforts.

      Blakey Vermeule is associate professor of English at Stanford University. She is the author of The Party of Humanity: Writing Moral Psychology in Eighteenth-Century Britain (2000) and Why Do We Care About Literary Characters (2009).

      See also: Jonathan Kramnick, Against Literary Darwinism

    • 431Jonathan Kramnick
    • The responses to my essay on literary Darwinism present a welcome opportunity to engage its topic on broader terms. The essay focused on an academically marginal but publicly significant movement in literary studies, one that hopes to ground the study of literature on evolutionary psychology and so, on its view, to put our rickety discipline on the steady foundation of science. My argument against this movement challenged both its account of the science and its treatment of texts. And it did so with an end in view. Literary Darwinism is worth taking seriously for the same reason that it has gathered so much attention in the popular press. It asks us to think hard about our work and to consider any relation we might have to the social and natural sciences. How can we defend the aims and methods of humanities? How might we integrate research from other disciplines into the study of literary artifacts and culture? How finally might we expand our sense of humanistic research for the twenty-first century? These are all important questions to consider, and they extend beyond the local concerns of my initial argument. So while I take some time here to respond to the specific queries raised by my interlocutors, I try also to elaborate a few points about work between the disciplines and about the current state of science talk among humanists.

      Jonathan Kramnick is professor of English at Rutgers University and author most recently of Actions and Objects from Hobbes to Richardson (2010).

      See also: Jonathan Kramnick, Against Literary Darwinism