Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 2022

Volume 48 Issue 4
    • 631Joshua Gang
    • Juxtaposing Derek Jarman’s film Wittgenstein (1993) with the eponymous philosopher’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), this article shows how Jarman’s film warns its viewers against the conceptual and political problems created by treating queerness as a metaphysical abstraction. For Jarman’s version of Wittgenstein, the need to make queerness a metaphysical abstraction was the product of homophobic self-loathing, which in turn distorted the philosopher’s sense of what and who could be part of “the world.” I take Jarman’s film as an opportunity to bring these issues to bear on recent theoretical accounts of queerness as being either difficult to define or somehow beyond representation.

    • 652Virginia Jackson
    • Do poems speak to you? Consider poems in which you encounter the signature version of excited Romantic poetic address that begins with a single letter adorned with its own exclamation mark: “O!” Don’t you imagine that someone is saying (or shouting or whispering or gasping) “O!”? Does it matter that you don’t know who that person might be? Don’t you feel moved to respond, if only silently? Don’t you want to imagine that overseeing or overhearing that address brings you into its range, thus making you feel as if you were joining a collective of such responsive silences? Nineteenth-century American poets often hoped you would feel this way, and most modern versions of poetics still do. But many Black poets in the US in the nineteenth century came to recognize that the lyricizing ambition of the apostrophic address that would come to be identified with Romantic and modern lyric threatened to make lyric poetry’s addressees universally White. Black Romantic poets repeatedly expressed anxieties about apostrophe’s racialized ambitions, though the history and theory of American poetics have both been premised on an ignorance of that expression.

    • 676John Durham Peters and Adam Wickberg
    • This article develops the new concept of environing media against the case of Mexico’s complex history over the past five centuries. To do this, it stakes out a theoretical development consisting in a shift in understanding from media as content-delivery systems to data processors, combining it with a processual understanding of environment as an ongoing and historical process of environing. In addition, the article discusses examples of indigenous media, an area that has so far received very little attention. The Aztec empire was as dependent on media forms as the Spanish colonizers who replaced it, and there are numerous cases of knowledges and practices surviving in hybrid forms, for example as part of maps. For much of its history, the field of media studies has been biased toward questions of (1) ideological or attitudinal influence caused by (2) modern or emergent technologies. This article goes in another direction by thinking about media as (1) environing and (2) residual. Media are agencies of civilizational and environmental order. The rise of digital media in recent decades has reinforced the fundamental logistical role of media as agencies that arrange, catalog, organize, network, and index people, places, and things. Our understanding of media as fundamental constituents of organization joins the recent interest in infrastructures. Calendars, clocks, towers, names, addresses, maps, registers, arms, and money are all infrastructural media. Such media become second nature, morphing biorhythms and altering ecosystems. Today’s planetary digital infrastructure builds upon the long legacy of resource management via databases. We argue for a longer genealogy of the nature shaping logistical role of media that is so evident today. In this article, we refine and exemplify these claims via a case study of some environing media in Mexico, a country with a deep and rich media history.

    • 697Sophia Roosth
    • The article is an ethnographic travelogue of time spent in Oman in 2018 with the Ediacaran subcommission. This is a collective of Earth scientists who globe-trot in search of particular rocks that might be reliable markers for subdividing the long stretch of the Ediacaran period (which lasted ninety-four million years) into intervals that mark global transformations in Earth history. To do so, these scientists are reliant upon the amenability of Petroleum Development Oman, which Omanis credit with ushering Oman into “modernity.” In recent years, critical theorists, cultural historians, and science-and-technology-studies (STS) scholars have argued for the necessity of forging new ways to tell stories that can scale between planetary history and the more familiar scales of human political action. In this article, I do not suggest that geological thinking is the right way to periodize sociopolitical or cultural history. Rather, I intend it as a provocation for us to recognize that periodization—and in particular the work required to nominate periods of duration and succession, unconformity and break—is a theory already built into the world, one which has disseminated across it to correlate time to place unevenly. As such, stratigraphy functions doubly in this article. First, stratigraphy is an object of inquiry: I address where geological timescales come from, and how stratigraphers calibrate eras, epochs, and periods dividing planetary history. Second, it is also an analytic with which I interrogate how thinking stratigraphically might inform how we, as critical theorists, historians, and the like, might think about those problems of periodization.

    • 721Zachary Tavlin
    • This article develops a theory of serial reading rethought as a theory of serial unreading, a processual form of attention directed toward virtual principles of production, whether a procedure, formula, operation, algorithm, or even an obsessive compulsion. The material specificity of the series’ parts matter but only insofar as the concrete detail suggests its own unwinding, the virtual and nonlinear path to its current state. In other words, the value or facility of serial unreading includes rediscovering the rules governing the production of the work. Thus, unreading is not necessarily an end in itself. In fact, by dispersing and expanding our attentional field, acts of unreading make us better readers of nonserial works. In drawing our attention to their governing rules, operations, or patterns of production, serial works generate a primary principle of criticism: the impulse to reverse engineer the object. To show how this works, I examine three twentieth-century items—one series of minimalist drawings and two poetic works. By choosing a small cluster of examples I aim to mimic the oscillations of serial unreading, the way audiences are required to move from one member of the series to the transtextual techne that produced it. By withholding or abjecting the single finished object (often projecting divergent endlessness), serial art projects its governing intention in terms of techne—which subsists virtually along with the actual work as its formal and efficient cause—rather than deep expression. Moving quickly among individual works, I try to show how the feeling of navigating their expanded, multidirectional fields leads us on a cognitive path (whether we take it or not) toward criticism.

    • 742Martin Lefebvre
    • This article looks at photography from the perspective of Charles S. Peirce’s theory of signs. The topic is a mainstay in accounts of photography, though usually it is limited to discussing iconicity and indexicality in a cursive and superficial manner: photos are both likenesses of their objects, and they are existentially determined by them. Yet the practice of photography—the way we use it—requires us to delve deeper into Peirce’s theory of signs. The central argument of this article is that calling on the semiotics of Peirce to investigate photography requires more than simply describing how the medium of photography functions in terms of any sort of medium specificity. It requires that we consider—and distinguish—how producers and viewers use photos as signs as well as the purposes for using them. Such uses and purposes may vary greatly in individual cases as there are no fixed rules in the matter except the adaptedness of the medium to be used for this or that purpose.

    • 774Bécquer Seguín
    • How might recognizing the literary influences behind political concepts shift our understanding of their meaning? This article explores how Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote shaped political concepts in the thought of the German jurist and Nazi Carl Schmitt. It does so by tracking Schmitt’s reflections on the Quixote throughout his oeuvre, from his early literary writings to his postwar book on Hamlet. Far from a curiosity, Schmitt’s scattered reflections on the Quixote show the extent to which his foundational political concepts of myth and the public have their roots in literary analysis, challenging Schmitt’s own account of the nonpolitical role of aesthetics in The Concept of the Political.