Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Autumn 2020

Volume 47 Issue 1
    • 1Lila Abu-Lughod
    • This reflection on Palestine’s political impasses in relation to the experiences of other colonized places and peoples was inspired by the current ferment in critical indigenous and native studies, and now Palestinian studies, about settler colonialism. Tracing the promises and pitfalls of new imaginations of sovereignty and self-determination emerging through indigenous activism, the essay reflects on museums and contested rituals of liberal recognition in North America and Australia to highlight both the stark differences in the situations of Palestinians under Israeli rule and the radical significance of the recent efflorescence of Palestinian cultural projects. Focusing particularly on the history of the Palestinian Museum (that opened in Birzeit in 2016), the article argues that the productivity of the settler-colonial framework lies less in the way it maps directly onto the situation on the ground than in the new solidarities it engenders and its potential to burst open the Palestinian political imagination.

    • 22César Domínguez
    • However diverse and even conflicting definitions of world literature may be, there is a consensus in previous scholarship about circulation as a key defining feature. Being circulation modeled and (in)validated by a corpus of statutes, rules, and regulations, the absence of a law-oriented approach to world literature appears completely contradictory. This essay is a first step toward a more sustained treatment of world literature and law. Here I claim that in the late 1830s the history of world literature as mastered by the West started to change as a consequence of the first two international copyright laws in the world––the Prussian Statute of 11 June 1837 and the British Act of 31 July 1838. The Prussian law is discussed in relation to the evolution of the Collection of British Authors of the German firm Tauchnitz between 1841 and 1847 by paying special attention to the case of American writers. The British law, in turn, is discussed in relation to French piracies of works printed in the UK by focusing on Frances Trollope’s Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832). Both laws sowed the seeds of the 1886 Berne Convention, whereby a vast transcontinental geography with a population of over five hundred million people was created for the legal circulation of literary works.

    • 49Verity Platt
    • What is the relationship between art history and its objects? Responding to Jaś Elsner’s claim that art-historical writing is inevitably ekphrastic, this essay revisits a site of intense disciplinary anxiety—Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s 1759 description of the Belvedere Torso and its revised version in his 1764 History of Ancient Art. Description has been cast as the “scapegoat” (or pharmakos) of Winckelmann’s art history—that which must be excised yet is fundamental to the operations of the whole. But although it often serves as a site of perceived excess and sublimation in his work, the ekphrastic elements of Winckelmann’s prose are nevertheless some of the most historicist aspects of his scholarship, shaped by a deep engagement with Greco-Roman ekphrastic literature. Description, in this sense, serves as a Platonic pharmakon—both affliction and cure for classical art history’s medial and ontological separation from its ruined and fragmented objects. In Winckelmann’s description of the torso, ekphrasis holds out the potential for the statue’s “completion” (Ergänzung). But understood according to eighteenth-century practices of visual restoration, this raises the question of whether such “whole-making” should be understood as proper or supplemental to the original image. What does it mean to “re-member” the Belvedere Torso through ekphrastic strategies drawn from antiquity itself? And what does this imply for our own textual (and pharmacological) mediations of the visual?

    • 76Saleem Al-Bahloly
    • The history of Iraq in the twentieth century, and perhaps the Middle East more broadly, is punctuated by an intellectual shift that has, for the most part, escaped the attention of scholars. It might be characterized as a shift from a problem of representation introduced by the rise of left-wing politics, to a problem of experience created by its failure. This shift registers in the work of writers and artists, where the depiction of the social world gave way to an exploration of states of being. The paradigm for that turn inward in modern art was set by the artist Kadhim Haidar, in a series of paintings exhibited at the National Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad, in 1965, under the title The Epic of the Martyr [Malḥamat al-shahīd]. The paintings reconstructed imagery from the mourning processions that annually commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, al-Husayn. This paper argues that the ritual imagery contains a grammar of experience, forged in the early history of Islam, that linked justice to a state of being, and that the transposition of the imagery into painting activated that grammar in the artwork.

    • 115Sabina Vaccarino Bremner
    • An introduction to an interview with Michel Foucault in 1979, which contextualizes his general stance on the Iranian uprising, as well as his conception of philosophical journalism and political spirituality, his rejection of the teleology of history, and his willingness to let historically silenced subjects speak for themselves.

    • 121Michel Foucault
    • An interview with Michel Foucault in 1979 that was never published during his lifetime and was recently rediscovered in the archives. The interview, appearing for the first time in English and in its complete form, marks one of Foucault’s final public discussions of the contentious topic of the Iranian Revolution. In particular, Foucault clarifies what he means by “political spirituality” and addresses the respective relations between religion, revolution, and self-transformation.

    • 135David Newheiser
    • This introduction argues that Derrida’s analysis in “Christianity and Secularization” undercuts two influential interpretations of his work. Some readers assimilate Derrida to an indeterminate “religion without religion” while others claim that he represents a “radical atheism” that is opposed to religion as such. In contrast to the univocity of these readings, “Christianity and Secularization” clarifies Derrida’s unease and affinity with religious traditions: in the recognition that religion and secularization are unstable categories, Derrida draws constructively on particular religious traditions that he does not claim as his own.

    • 138Jacques Derrida
    • In this essay Jacques Derrida reflects, for the first time at length, on secularization as a historical process. Whereas his earlier writings on religion focus on Jewish and Christian authors who blur the boundaries of religious belonging, this essay directly questions the categories of religion and secularization. Against this background, Derrida revisits the work of Immanuel Kant, Voltaire, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Martin Heidegger, and he reflects on his own writings on messianism, negative theology, and the khôra.

    • 149Georges Didi-Huberman
    • This essay, in the form of a letter written to director László Nemes in the immediate aftermath of viewing Son of Saul, is at once a critical reading of the film within a larger theoretical framework and a subjective emotional response to seeing on the screen something of the author’s own “most harrowing nightmares.” While bringing Nemes’s film into conversation with Maurice Blanchot, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, the Hassidic tale and ancient myths, Georges Didi-Huberman returns to his reflections in Images in Spite of All (2008) on the four photographs taken clandestinely of the gas chambers in Auschwitz by one of the Sonderkommando. Son of Saul presents the allegory of Saul whose job as a Sonderkommando is to drag countless corpses to the crematorium where they will be reduced to ashes but who sets out on a mad, single-minded quest to give a proper burial, complete with the recitation of kaddish, to the body of one boy. According to the author, the film marks the invention of the “documentary tale” genre, combining Benjamin’s notions of montage based on the document, as manifested in the work of Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Alfred Döblin, and that of the dying art of storytelling, intimately bound up as it is with the authority of the dying. Thus, the dead child drowning at the end of the film stands as an inversion of the story of Moses, a living child saved from drowning, just as the real historic death of the Jewish people reverses the mythical Biblical birth of the Jewish people.