Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Winter 2013

Volume 39 Issue 2
    • 217Thomas Elsaesser
    • Accustomed as we are to the artistic avant-garde as resistant to all commercial applications (which usually includes the Hollywood film industry), we tend to regard scientific inquiry as pure, technology as instrumental, and the military-industrial complex as immoral. What the return of 3-D shows is how difficult it is to maintain such neat distinctions. One needs to think creatively as well as critically about their entanglement, which has been oppositional, interdependent, and cooperative-complicit all at the same time. Perhaps the reason why Hugo, clutching his father's robot and snatched by the stationmaster from the tracks of the digitally onrushing train, yields such a memorable 3-D image is because its several dimensions hint at just such an improbable but necessary constellation of antagonistic mutuality.

      Thomas Elsaesser is a film historian and professor of film and television studies at the University of Amsterdam.

      See also: John Johnston, Machinic Vision  ·  John Guillory, Genesis of the Media Concept  ·  Miriam Hansen, Why Media Aesthetics?

    • 247Robert Pippin

      As noted, the variations in the formula are just as familiar. The most frequent violation of the straight “ordinary” or “democratic heroism” theme concerns ambitious and thereby corrupt career officers who see the war as a means of advancement and so are far more indifferent to the risks and suffering of their men than any humane perspective should tolerate. Paths of Glory (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1957) is perhaps the most famous example of such a film.3 (Sometimes, though, the ambition, while clear, is also linked to qualities of great military leadership on an epic scale, as in Patton [dir. Franklin J. Schaffner, 1970].) Another variation or inversion, very prominent in Vietnam-era war films, concerns the pointlessness, even the absurdity, of the war itself, a meaningless project concocted by distant politicians, requiring enormous sacrifices for goals that no sane, ordinary soldier can possibly accept or even understand, with psychological costs that are incalculable. (Apocalypse Now [dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1979] can serve as the paradigm of such movies. The soldiers whistling the theme of The Mickey Mouse Club at the end of Full Metal Jacket [dir. Kubrick, 1987] could serve as well.) In both the formula and the variations, then, an underlying theme emerges: how (or whether) ordinary citizens of a commercial republic, whose daily lives involve no exposure to physical danger or violence, can come to be able to participate wholeheartedly in acts of nearly unimaginable ferocity and deal with the psychological trauma of constant death, often of buddies loved in a way not permitted to men in any other context, often for geopolitical purposes that seem pointless. An underlying, often implicit question is: what do men need to believe, what do they need to understand, to endure such an ordeal?

      3. Another impressive example would be Robert Aldrich's Attack! (1956).

      Robert B. Pippin is the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, the Department of Philosophy, and the College at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books on modern German philosophy, including: Hegel's Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness (1989), Hegel's Practical Philosophy (2008), and Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy (2010). His latest books are Hollywood Westerns and American Myth (2010), Hegel on Self-Consciousness: Desire and Death in the “Phenomenology of Spirit” (2010), and Fatalism in Film Noir: Some Cinematic Philosophy (2011). His 2011 Adorno Lectures, Kunst als Philosophie, will be published this fall.

      See also: Robert B. Pippin, What Is a Western?  ·  Daniel Morgan, On the Aesthetics and Ethics of Camera Movement  ·  Daniel Morgan, Ontology and Realist Aesthetics

    • 276Ina Blom
    • All of a sudden, television signals appeared as the perfect technical corollary to the avant-garde idea of undoing authorial mastery. Yet, as befits the ambivalences that inform such questioning of authorship, the celebration of the lack of technical control was accompanied by a quest for new modes of technological mastery—for instance through the development of video synthesizers that allowed for a far greater degree of predictability in the production of video images. The history of early video art is written at the intersection of these two modalities of adaptation to signaletic speed.

      But what if this history could be written differently? What if the critical question were no longer that of artistic control or lack of control? What if signaletic speeds could be seen to have purposes of their own, powers to unfold within an artistic setting whose actants were different from those in the realm of television production?

      Ina Blom is a professor in the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas at the University of Oslo. Her fields of research are modernism/avant-garde studies and contemporary art, with a particular focus on media aesthetics and the relationship between art and technology. Her most recent book is On the Style Site: Art, Sociality, and Media Culture (2007).

      See also: Bill Nichols, Documentary Film and the Modernist Avant-Garde  ·  Terry Castle, Phantasmagoria  ·  Jonathan Auerbach, Chasing Film Narrative

    • 296Siraj Ahmed
    • The calls for new approaches to philology, Weltliteratur, and comparative literature that have followed in Said's wake have not directly addressed the question that underlies his engagement with Auerbach: how can literature, a concept with a strictly European provenance, ever hope to be adequate to non-European forms of writing? Jacques Derrida observed that ‘when we say literature, … we speak and make ourselves understood on the basis of a Latin root. … There is … no world literature, if such a thing is or remains to come [aucune littérature mondiale, s'il en est, ou si elle reste à venir] … that must not first inherit what this latinity assumes’. He asked, therefore, what we mean when we say literature: ‘Is it only a mode of writing … specific to the little thing that is Europe [propre à cette petite chose qu'est l'Europe]?

      Siraj Ahmed is assistant professor of English and comparative literature at Lehman College, City University of New York. He is the author of The Stillbirth of Capital: Enlightenment Writing and Colonial India (2012) and currently writing Archaeology of Babel: Critical Method and Colonial Law.

      See also: James I. Porter, Erich Auerbach and the Judaizing of Philology  ·  Aamir R. Mufti, Auerbach in Istanbul  ·  W. J. T. Mitchell, Edward Said's Humanism

    • 327Jerome McGann
    • Nearly everyone now sees that scholarly communication will soon be largely organized in digital venues. The digital migration of our museum and library archives is well underway and will continue. So is the development of an integrated digital network for connecting those digital resources. All that is both good and inevitable—indeed thrilling. But then—forgive me William Wordsworth—a timely utterance brought my thrills to grief: “After we digitize all the books, the books themselves will still be there,” as indispensable as they ever were.4 No digital technology can replace them (with digital surrogates); no digital technology can embrace them (online).

      What kind of research and educational program can integrate the preservation and study of these two radically different media?

      4. McGann, “On Creating a Usable Future,” Profession (2011): 185.

      Jerome McGann is the John Stewart Bryan University Professor, University of Virginia. His most recent publication is The Invention Tree, with illustrations by Susan Bee. This essay is taken from his forthcoming Memory Now: Philology in a New Key, a historical critique of humanities research methods and programmatic needs.

      See also: Sheldon Pollock, Future Philology?  ·  Alan Liu, Transcendental Data  ·  Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, The Enduring Ephemeral

    • 347Alexander R. Galloway
    • This essay begins from another. In a recent examination of the ideological conceits of current conceptions of the brain, Catherine Malabou asks: “What should we do so that consciousness of the brain does not purely and simply coincide with the spirit of capitalism?1

      Such is the conundrum, in its essence, that I want to explore. While Malabou's query is chiefly about the brain, it resonates far and wide because it goes straight to what is wrong with some philosophical thinking appearing these days. Why, within the current renaissance of research in continental philosophy, is there a coincidence between the structure of ontological systems and the structure of the most highly evolved technologies of post-Fordist capitalism? I am speaking, on the one hand, of computer networks in general and object-oriented computer languages (such as Java or C++) in particular and, on the other hand, of certain realist philosophers such as Bruno Latour, but also more pointedly Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Harman, and their associated school known as speculative realism. Why do these philosophers, when holding up a mirror to nature, see the mode of production reflected back at them? Why, in short, is there a coincidence between today's ontologies and the software of big business?

      1. Catherine Malabou, What Should We Do with Our Brain? trans. Sebastian Rand (New York, 2009), p. 12.

      Alexander R. Galloway is an associate professor of media, culture, and communication at New York University. He is author of three books on media and cultural theory, most recently The Interface Effect (2012). He is cotranslator of the Tiqqun book Introduction to Civil War (2010) and is currently writing a monograph on François Laruelle.

      See also: Alain Badiou, "We Need a Popular Discipline"  ·  Slavoj Žižek, The Ongoing "Soft Revolution"  ·  Frederic Jameson, The End of Temporality

    • 367Christopher S. Celenza
    • In this work, the Historia critica philosophiae (1740), Brucker is rightly regarded as the first modern historian of philosophy. His comments about Ficino tell us a lot about the enterprise of the history of philosophy, its canons, and its guiding assumptions. They can also help us understand why fifteenth-century intellectual history has traditionally played such a small part in the history of philosophy. Ficino represents one of the fifteenth century's most important philosophers and certainly one whose work, if often subterraneously, had significant influence in succeeding centuries.2 Why did Brucker deem Ficino of such little worth as a philosopher?

      2. Most recently, with literature, see Christopher S. Celenza, “Marsilio Ficino,” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta,

      Christopher S. Celenza works on intellectual history, postclassical Latin, and the history of philosophy. He is the author of The Lost Italian Renaissance: Humanists, Historians, and Latin's Legacy (2004) and most recently has published (as editor and translator) Angelo Poliziano's “Lamia” in Context: Text, Translation, and Introductory Studies (2010). He is the Charles Homer Haskins Professor at Johns Hopkins University and currently serves as director of the American Academy in Rome.

      See also: Daniel Heller-Roazen, Philosophy before the Law  ·  Glenn W. Most, Reading Raphael  ·  Pierre Hadot, Forms of Life in Ancient Philosophy

    • 402Jeffrey J. Williams
    • Around 1970, according to most accounts, there was a paradigm shift in literary studies: criticism moved from practical readings to theory, embracing new texts such as Jacques Derrida's “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.”1 One less-often-told story is the change not in the statements of criticism but in the institutions of criticism, for instance in journals. The cases of Kenyon Review and New Literary History provide a compressed version of that history, and I offer it here as a counterpoint to the account presented by Evan Kindley (“Big Criticism,” Critical Inquiry 38 [Autumn 2011]: 71–95), where he uncovers the foundation funding to journals like Kenyon Review in the 1940s and how that created what he calls Big Criticism. As opposed to a paradigm shift to theory, he argues that Big Criticism set the terms of criticism that continued through to theory. While he brings up some fascinating information, I think Kindley is mistaken in his larger speculation.

      1. See Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Human Sciences,” trans. Richard Macksey and Alan Bass, Writing and Difference, .ed Bass (Chicago, 1978), pp. 278–93.

      See also: Evan Kindley, Big Criticism

    • 412Evan Kindley
    • I am very pleased to have received such an intelligent and informative response from Jeffrey Williams (“The Little Magazine and the Theory Journal: A Response to Evan Kindley's ‘Big Criticism,’” Critical Inquiry 39 [Winter 2013]: 402–11). In most cases, I believe the claims that Williams makes and the claims that I make are ultimately compatible, though the emphases are, perhaps inevitably, rather different. I will focus on a few of Williams's major objections to my argument, but I'd like to begin by declaring my respect and admiration for his path-breaking work in this area and a sincere desire to continue the conversation further.

      Evan Kindley, a PhD candidate at Princeton University, is completing a dissertation entitled “Critics and Connoisseurs: Poet-Critics and the Administration of Culture.” He works at Claremont McKenna College and is managing editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books.

      See also: Evan Kindley, Big Criticism