Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Winter 2023

Volume 49 Issue 2
    • 145Cressida J. Heyes
    • The genre of advice to parents about children’s sleep proliferated between the mid-1980s and the beginning of the twenty-first century. This article reads that genre against itself, as symptomatic of larger political trends—the end of the privilege of the normative mid-century nuclear family and the advent of neoliberal ideology and political economy. Specifically, it argues that this wave of advice reflects an ambivalence about the autonomous individual within neoliberalism versus the need for attachment and the dependence of kinship. Returning to Jessica Benjamin’s object-relations feminism, it shows how the oscillation between methods of sleep training that stress independent sleeping against those that align with attachment parenting reveal the same subject-object relations of power (with concomitant gender roles) that Benjamin outlined as central to domination. By embedding this analysis in its contemporary material conditions of class, race, and gender, the article argues that sleep practices try—and must necessarily fail—to create workers and family members who are both entirely autonomous and mutually supportive. It combines examination of the psychodynamics of family relationships as mutually informed by neoliberal rationality and an established critique of the politics of intensive mothering, with recognition of a post-2008 anxiety distinctive of millennial parenting, to show how children’s sleep has become a part of (gendered) work—a technology of the self—that carries the burden of forming the future citizen worker.

    • 165Steven Swarbrick
    • This article examines the psychoanalytic foundations of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s late essay “The Weather in Proust” and draws out the contradictions in its aesthetic claims. These claims are based on the object-relations theory of Melanie Klein, D. W. Winnicott, and others whom Sedgwick turns to in her departure from Freudian psychoanalysis. The latter, Sedgwick argues, is a closed system compared to the freedom afforded by a theory of weather. From this vantage point, Sedgwickian weather is exemplary of a broader turn away from psychoanalysis, especially Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, in the environmental humanities. I examine the limits to this turn and show why the version of eco-psychoanalysis on display in “The Weather in Proust” contradicts Sedgwick’s stated intentions. Though Sedgwick posits the weather as a source of freedom and creativity, her version of atmospheric criticism exacerbates the very conditions of anxiety that Sedgwick tries to ameliorate. This contradiction in reading points to a greater problem in the environmental humanities. I address this problem by returning to Sedgwick’s rejection of Sigmund Freud.

    • 185Zhao Ng
    • This article introduces the problem of inexistence to studies in genre and gender, providing a hermeneutic point of reference for literary history and trans theory. It seeks to negotiate the affinities and disaffinities between queer and trans by foregrounding the latter’s struggle for existence against the former’s mobilization of a rhetoric of negative relationality, while at the same time preserving the bonds of intimacy across and beyond the coalition of LGBTQIA+. Such queer intimacy is read in relation to a haptic technology of queer close reading, enabling differentially sexed bodies to imaginatively inhabit each other. I begin by considering how Djuna Barnes’s close, haptic readings of Henry James and Marcel Proust enact a reversal of sex, but I consider how the affective evidence of these trans moments do not amount to trans existence but raise the ethical necessity of holding open the difference between the ephemeral trans experiences within cis existence and the real struggle for trans existence of trans subjects today. Such a divide, however, is simultaneously held against the moments of intimacy that are capable of being produced across cis and trans subjects through such close reading and cross-inhabitation of bodies. To read trans literary history before trans, I thus propose the notion of trans inexistence through an interpretation of Jacques Maritain’s figure of the “angel” and Hegel’s “beautiful soul.” By situating Barnes’s and Jean Genet’s own characterizations of their transfeminine characters in terms of the angel in a post-Romantic, Catholic context, I interpret the trans angel as a figure of inexistence, tied to a minimal transcendence from the terms of history and materiality, including the sexed body. Finally, I consider how Genet’s phenomenology of proprioception draws together the problems of queer intimacy, haptic reading, and trans inexistence. In analyzing how Genet and his characters cross-inhabit each other’s bodies via proprioceptive mimicry, I unfold both the vast potential and the limits of the intimacies constructed across cis male and transfeminine lives and the accompanying role played by the literary mode of romance.

    • 207Kate Rennebohm
    • This article draws on the thought of Sylvia Wynter to argue that the development of frameworks of race in the early modern period played an essential, if as yet unconsidered, role in the development of modern skepticism. In formulating this history—and taking Stanley Cavell’s conceptualization of skepticism as an important point of reference—this article positions skepticism as both a historical and ongoing nexus for practices and experiences of racialization. Responding to this, I propose a variant of skepticism that I term enforced skepticism, explored here through a reading of Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele, 2017). This is a form of skeptical experience that is born not from epistemological doubt but from the violent foreclosures of access to self-expression and a livable world.

    • 227Jennifer Fay
    • This article connects the theory of Hannah Arendt and the philosophy of Stanley Cavell to the questions of what thinking is and how it appears on film. It focuses on two theatrical trials: Adolph Eichmann’s trial (1961) and the ending sequence in Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) in which the questions of thought and thoughtlessness are at stake. Whereas Arendt considers the ways that thinking poses challenges to representation (there is, she writes, a “scarcity of documentary evidence”), Cavell turns to cinema and the camera’s “knowledge of the metaphysical restlessness” that becomes manifest when the mind thinks and the body fidgets. He goes so far as to argue that cinema may even “prove thinking.” Though they arrive at opposite conclusions, Cavell and Arendt share a critique of modern subjectivity that these trials bring to light: reason has replaced thinking and skepticism of the world has replaced consciousness in it. But film, as read through Cavell, may reveal a crisis of altogether different order. It is not that thinking cannot be represented, as Arendt argues; in the age of cinema, thinking cannot be concealed. If anything, thoughtlessness defies representation.

    • 251Pang Laikwan
    • This article analyzes the current political predicament of Hong Kong by examining Nightmare Wallpaper, an art project composed of a series of automatic drawings made by local artist Pak Sheung Cheun. He made them while attending the court cases of political activists on trial, and the article further explores his subsequent efforts to transform this work into wallpaper prints, a series of installations, and a book. This political work, which is also very private, vividly and honestly demonstrates the artist’s intense struggles, along with the despair felt by many in the city. The earnest self-reflection shown in the art does not give his audience a way out of the blind alley of the present but invites us to express ourselves and to connect with others. It is both a work of abjection and intersubjectivity, with no naïve expectation to reconcile the tensions between them. It shows, rather, a determination to participate in an uncertain future, combining the artist’s and the city’s capacity of meaning production and imagination. The Nightmare Wallpaper project also reveals how this artist, as part of a protest community, struggles to overcome binary thinking through an affirmation of becoming.

    • 274Georges Didi-Huberman
    • “Reading Anew” was originally presented as a speech at the awards ceremony for the Warburg Prize in Hamburg, 26 October 2021.