Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Spring 2022

Volume 48 Issue 3
    • 437Sharon Marcus
    • “Reading as if for Death” asks how people live in the face of imminent death by analyzing Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel On the Beach. The few critics who have commented on this novel have focused on its message about the dangers of nuclear weapons. This article argues that this middlebrow Australian bestseller, which has never gone out of print, is also an important contribution to the literature of death and dying. In its focus on characters who may well be dead within a year but continue to plant gardens and learn shorthand, the novel departs from common views of everyday life as passive, static, and immanent, instead portraying it as centered around acts of repair and future-oriented planning. In contrast to representations of mortality that emphasize transcendence and enlightenment, On the Beach sympathetically conveys the combination of certainty and uncertainty that most of its characters endure in living their final days and depicts characters for whom denial, refusing to see what is, and delusion, believing in what is not, become forms of palliative care.

    • 459Jacques Rancière
    • Y a-t-il un art communiste? was given as a talk at the Grand Palais in Paris on 10 April 2019 on the occasion of a special exhibition, Red: Art and Utopia in the Land of the Soviets (Rouge: Art et utopie au pays des Soviets). The exhibition ran from 20 March 2019 to 1 July 2019. Red displayed works produced in the wake of the October Revolution of 1917 to the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. This covers early experiments by avant-garde artists such as Vladimir Mayokovsky and Kazimir Malevich, the grand-scale construction of public monuments, and the mass-produced art of Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko. Like many of Jacques Rancière’s recent publications on art, this article closely engages the material of its source exhibit, and, in it, he addresses the full range of art staged by the Grand Palais, offering a direct and provocative confrontation with the question of whether there can be a communist art.

    • 483Michel Mourlet
    • At the time of its publication in Cahiers du Cinéma in 1959, this text by Michel Mourlet constituted a manifesto for the Mac-Mahonists, a group of cinephiles named after the Paris movie theater, the Mac-Mahon, where they would gather, program, and watch films. This short but foundational essay stands as a vibrant defense of the near-ecstatic power of the movies, which Mourlet argues comes from the gaze of the camera and its ability to capture reality directly. For Mourlet, art must be sublime or it is of no interest; it must be intimate and passionate or it is trivial. Great movies set viewers “reeling in a vertigo,” precipitate them into a hypnotic state in which they lose themselves in a transformative experience from which they emerge whole. Praising absorption and fascination, Mourlet decries Brechtian distancing and any distortion of reality for expressive purposes. What makes filmmakers great, he writes in this text, is “the way in which their means of approaching the fundamental themes of the mise-en-scène, organized around the bodily presence of actors in a setting, is or is not capable of fascinating us.”

    • 499Matthew Garrett
    • Mostly the culture of literacy has taken shape within a realm of freedom, seemingly distant from the needs of the body and the demands of sustenance. At the same time, the world represented within so much of the world’s narrative, both truth and fiction, has been saturated in struggle and deprivation. This article tries to make some sense of this juxtaposition, freedom on one side and necessity on the other: in particular, the pull of past or residual forms of unfreedom in the sphere of literary representation, within and against new or emerging expressions of emancipation, themselves accompanied or countered in modern times by ever-novel styles of exploitation.

    • 522Andrew Hui
    • This article explores the dream of the universal library in Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s Theodicy, Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Library of Babel,” and Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire. This is a story that, though often mentioned, is underexplored in both literary and intellectual histories. Scholars have overlooked the dream of the total library perhaps because this theme appears in works that transcend literary, aesthetic, and philosophical genres. I argue that the dream of the total library morphs from Leibniz’s assured hierarchy of knowledge in which God is at the apex to Borges’s and Wenders’s more anxious post-enlightened epistemic regimes in which knowledge, decentered and leveled, becomes data, or worse, noise. The fantasies of textual omniscience can change our understanding of our European genealogies of knowledge and information theory more broadly. Taken together, their dreams of a total library constitute a central episode in the great romance of the pursuit of encyclopedic knowledge. In a world awash in a superabundance of signs and symbols and systems, they ask: How does the human mind orient itself? What Ariadne’s thread can it grasp? What possibilities of free will lie therein its imaginary infinite stacks?

    • 549Manar H. Makhoul
    • For some, the 1967 war meant a setback to grand Arab projects; but the Palestinians understood the war in physical and epistemic terms. This is because the war made it clear to them that Israel and Zionism are capable of physically erasing Palestine as well as its history. The Palestinian existential fear of epistemic erasure (athazagoraphobia), following the complete occupation of their land, has produced works that affirm epistemic presence through the assertion of history and ownership. Athazagoraphobia refers to an existential human fear of death both physically and memorially––namely, human continuity. As a result, Palestinian discourse, responding to athazagoraphobia, centers around questions of origins, genealogy, and beginnings. Moreover, Palestinian reaction to athazagoraphobia opens up a discussion about the impact of this reaction on larger intellectual projects that deal with universal themes. Consequently, this article offers additional insights into the relationship between the 1948 and 1967 wars.

    • 570Ann Laura Stoler
    • This article is an effort to register the archival surge among Palestinians in Palestine and beyond. It is focused not on the collection of archives but on the mulitmedia practice of archiving as political practice. It is not the work in and on archives that redefines the terms of engagement but the practice of archiving itself. The challenge is directed at what constitutes custodial control, access, rubrics of order, and a pedagogy of use. Academics, artists, and activists are challenging the aesthetics of dissent and the work of aesthetics in redefining what constitutes the political in oppressive colonial regimes today. Countermovements of documentation are efforts to displace rather than only disprove colonial truth. The conceits of what counts as archival labor—and who can do it—are poised to implode.

    • 594Chunjie Zhang
    • This article reads Max Weber’s Collected Essays in the Sociology of Religion (1920/1921), in particular the first two sections, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and Confucianism and Taoism, as his comparative philosophy of life. While Weber’s thesis about the determining effect of Protestantism on the emergence of industrial capitalism has been taken as a justification for the superiority of Western culture and its uniqueness in the world, this article emphasizes Weber’s critique of Protestant asceticism and his pessimism toward the West in the early twentieth century. Weber’s critique is deeply connected to his concerns about life and freedom and his imagination of an aesthetic way of life in Chinese Confucianism, in which he believes to have found a well-balanced rational culture that accepts and appreciates irrationalism, as expressed in Taoism. And, as the article observes, Weber’s philosophy of life centering on aesthetic self-cultivation inspired Michel Foucault’s concept of the care of the self in the 1980s. Weber’s sociology of religion thus articulates his vision of freedom in the age of global capitalism—it is his Confucian care of the self.