In Animal Rites, Cary Wolfe examines contemporary notions of humanism and ethics by reconstructing a little known but crucial underground tradition of theorizing the animal from Wittgenstein, Cavell, and Lyotard to Lévinas, Derrida, ...
What precisely, W. J. T. Mitchell asks, are pictures (and theories of pictures) doing now, in the late twentieth century, when the power of the visual is said to be greater than ever before, and the "pictorial turn" supplants the "linguistic turn" in the study of culture? This book by one of America's leading theorists of visual representation offers a rich account of the interplay between the visible and the readable across culture, from literature to visual art to the mass (...) media. (shrink)
"[Mitchell] undertakes to explore the nature of images by comparing them with words, or, more precisely, by looking at them from the viewpoint of verbal language.... The most lucid exposition of the subject I have ever read."—Rudolf Arnheim, _Times Literary Supplement_.
Although the notion of spatiality has always lurked in the background of discussions of literary form, the self-conscious use of the term as a critical concept is generally traced to Joseph Frank's seminal essay of 1945, "Spatial Form in Modern Literature."1 Frank's basic argument is that modernist literary works are "spatial" insofar as they replace history and narrative sequence with a sense of mythic simultaneity and disrupt the normal continuities of English prose with disjunctive syntactic arrangements. This argument has been (...) attacked on several fronts. An almost universal objection is that spatial form is a "mere metaphor" which has been given misplaced concreteness and that it denies the essentially temporal nature of literature. Some critics will concede that the metaphor contains a half-truth, but one which is likely to distract attention from more important features of the reading experience. The most polemical attacks have come from those who regard spatial form as an actual, but highly regrettable, characteristic of modern literature and who have linked it with antihistorical and even fascist ideologies.2 Advocates of Frank's position, on the other hand, have generally been content to extrapolate his premises rather than criticize them, and have compiled an ever-mounting list of modernist texts which can be seen, in some sense, as "antitemporal." The whole debate can best be advanced, in my view, not by some patchwork compromise among the conflicting claims but by a radical, even outrageous statement of the basic hypothesis in its most general form. I propose, therefore, that far from being a unique phenomenon of some modern literature, and far from being restricted to the features which Frank identifies in those works , spatial form is a crucial aspect of the experience and interpretation of literature in all ages and cultures. The burden of proof, in other words, is not on Frank to show that some works have spatial form but on his critics to provide an example of any work that does not. · 1. Frank's essay first appeared in Sewanee Review 53 and was revised in his The Widening Gyre . Frank's basic argument has not changed essentially even in his most avante-garde statements; he still regards spatial form "as a particular phenomenon of modern avante-garde writing." See "Spatial Form: An Answer to Critics," Critical Inquiry 4 : 231-52. A useful bibliography, "Space and Spatial Form in Narrative," is being complied by Jeffrey Smitten .· 2. This charge generally links the notion of spatial form with Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound, the imagist movement, the "irrationality" and pessimistic antihistoricism of modernism, and the conservative Romantic tradition. Frank discusses the complex motives behind these associations in the work of Robert Weimann and Frank Kermode in his "Answer to Critics," pp. 238-48. W. J. T. Mitchell, editor of Critical Inquiry, is the author of Blake's Composite Art, and The Last Dinosaur Book: The Life and Times of a Cultural Icon. The present essay is part of Iconology: The Image in Literature and the Visual Arts. "Diagrammatology" appeared in the Spring 1981 issue of Critical Inquiry. Leon Surette responds to the current essay in "‘Rational Form in Literature’". (shrink)
Is there a dominant global image—call it a world picture—that links the Occupy movement to the Arab Spring? Or is there any single image that captures and perhaps even motivated the widely noticed synergy and infectious mimicry between Tahrir Square and Zuccotti Park?
The question naturally arises: Is public art inherently violent, or is it a provocation to violence? Is violence built into the monument in its very conception? Or is violence simply an accident that befalls some monuments, a matter of the fortunes of history? The historical record suggests that if violence is simply an accident that happens to public art, it is one that is always waiting to happen. The principal media and materials of public art are stone and metal sculpture (...) not so much by choice as by necessity. “A public sculpture,” says Lawrence Alloway, “should be invulnerable or inaccessible. It should have the material strength to resist attack or be easily cleanable, but it also needs a formal structure that is not wrecked by alterations.”12 The violence that surrounds public art is more, however, than simply the ever-present possibility of an accident—the natural disaster or random act of vandalism. Much of the world’s public art—memorials, monuments, triumphal arches, obelisks, columns, and statues—has a rather direct reference to violence in the form of war or conquest. From Ozymandias to Caesar to Napoleon to Hitler, public art has served as a kind of monumentalizing of violence, and never more powerfully than when it presents the conqueror as a man of peace, imposing a Napoleonic code or a pax Romana on the world. Public sculpture that is too frank or explicit about this monumentalizing of violence, whether the Assyrian palace reliefs of the ninth century b.c., or Morris’s bomb sculpture proposal of 1981, is likely to offend the sensibilities of a public committed to the repression of its own complicity in violence.13 The very notion of public art as we receive it is inseparable from what Jürgen Habermas has called “the liberal model of the public sphere,” a dimension distinct from the economic, the private, and the political. This ideal realm provides the space in which disinterested citizens may contemplate a transparent emblem of their own inclusiveness and solidarity, and deliberate on the general good, free of coercion, violence, or private interests.14 12. Lawrence Alloway, “The Public Sculpture Problem,” Studio International 184 : 124.13. See Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit, “The Forms of Violence,” October, no. 8 : 17-29, for an important critique of the “narrativization” of violence in Western art and an examination of the alternative suggested by the Assyrian palace reliefs.14. Habermas first introduced this concept in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence . First published in 1962, it has since become the focus of an extensive literature. See also Habermas’s short encyclopedia article, “The Public Sphere,” trans. Sara Lennox and Frank Lennox, New German Critique 1 : 49-55, and the introduction to it by Peter Hohendahl in the same issue, pp. 45-48. I owe much to the guidance of Miriam Hansen and Lauren Berlant on this complex and crucial topic. W. J. T. Mitchell, editor of Critical Inquiry, is Gaylord Donnelly Distinguished Service Professor of English and art at the University of Chicago. His recent book is Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. (shrink)
If journalism is the first draft of history, these three essays might be described as a stab at a second draft. It is an attempt by three scholars from different disciplines, with sharply contrasting methodologies, to provide an account of the protest movements of 2011, from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street. We deploy the perspectives of ethnography, political thought, and iconology in an effort to produce a multidimensional picture of this momentous year of revolutions, uprisings, mass demonstrations, and—most (...) centrally—the occupations of public space by protest movements. (shrink)
The criterion of "arguability" has tended to steer Critical Inquiry away from the kind of pluralism which defines itself as neutral, tolerant eclecticism toward a position which I would call "dialectical pluralism." This sort of pluralism is not content with mere diversity but insists on pushing divergent theories and practices toward confrontation and dialogue. Its aim is not the mere preservation or proliferation of variety but the weeding out of error, the elimination of trivial or marginal contentions, and the clarification (...) of fundamental and irreducible differences. The goal of dialectical pluralism is not liberal toleration of opposing views from a neutral ground but transformation, conversion, or, at least, the kind of communication which clarifies exactly what is at stake in any critical conflict. A good dramatization of Critical Inquiry's editorial ideal would be the dialogue of the devil and angel in Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell, an exchange in which each contestant enters into and criticizes the metaphysics of his contrary and which ends happily with the angel transformed into a devil. (shrink)
Mitchell: Could we begin by discussing the problem of public art? When we spoke a few weeks ago, you expressed some uneasiness with the notion of public art, and I wonder if you could expand on that a bit.Kruger: Well, you yourself lodged it as the “problem” of public art and I don’t really find it problematic inasmuch as I really don’t give it very much thought. I think on a broader level I could say that my “problem” is with (...) categorization and naming: how does one constitute art and how does one constitute a public? Sometimes I think that if architecture is a slab of meat, then so-called public art is a piece of garnish laying next to it. It has a kind of decorative function. Now I’m not saying that it always has to be that way—at all—and I think perhaps that many of my colleagues are working to change that now. But all too often, it seems the case.Mitchell: Do you think of your own art, insofar as it’s engaged with the commercial public sphere—that is, with advertising, publicity, mass media, and other technologies for influencing a consumer public—that it is automatically a form of public art? Or does it stand in opposition to public art?Kruger: I have a question for you: what is a public sphere which is an uncommercial public sphere? Barbara Kruger is an artist who works with words and pictures. W. J. T. Mitchell, editor of Critical Inquiry, is Gaylord Donnelly Distinguished Professor of English and art at the University of Chicago. (shrink)
The essays included in this special issue of Critical Inquiry are a product of the symposium on “Narrative: The Illusion of Sequence” held at the University of Chicago on 26-28 October 1979. The rather special character of this symposium was not fragmented into concurrent or competing sessions, and all the speakers remained throughout the entire weekend to discuss the papers of their fellow participants. Several distinguished participants, in fact, did not read papers but confined their contributions to the conversations which (...) developed over the several sessions of the three-day program. The impact of these sustained discussions is reflected in the revisions which the authors made in preparing their papers for this special issue, and thus this collection is a “product” of the symposium in a fairly precise sense. (shrink)
It may seem a bit perverse to argue that pluralism is a kind of dogmatism, since pluralists invariably define themselves as antidogmatists. Indeed, the world would seem to be so well supplied with overt dogmatists—religious fanatics, militant revolutionaries, political and domestic tyrants—that it will probably seem unfair to suggest that the proponents of liberal, tolerant, civilized open-mindedness are guilty of a covert dogmatism. My only excuse for engaging in this exercise is that it may help to shake up some rather (...) firmly fixed ideas about dogmatism held by those who advocate some version of pluralism. Dogmatism, I want to argue, has had a very had press, some of it deserved, some of it based in misunderstandings and ignorance. Much of that bad press stems, I will suggest, from the dominance of pluralism as an intellectual ideology since the Enlightenment. If “dogmatism” is a synonym for irrationality, infelixibility, and authoritarianism, the fault lies as much with pluralism as it does with any actual dogmatism. I’d like to begin, therefore, with a definition of dogmatism that comes, not from its pluralist foes, but from a historian of religion who treats it as a fairly neutral term, describing a complex and ancient feature of social institutions. This definition comes from E. Royston Pike’s Encyclopedia of Religion and Religions:DOGMA . A religious doctrine that is to be received on authority—whether of a Divine revelation, a Church Council, Holy Scripture, or a great and honoured religious teacher—and not, at least in the first instance, because it may be proved true in the light of reason. Almost always there is associated with dogma the element of Faith. The term comes from the Greek word for “to seem,” and it meant originally that which seems true to anyone, i.e. has been approved or decided beyond cavil. In the New Testament it is applied to decisions of the Christian church in Jerusalem, enactments of the Jewish law, and imperial decrees, all of which were things to be accepted without argument. A little later it had come to mean simple statements of Christian belief and practice; and it was not until the 4th century, when the heretics were showing how far from simple the basic Christian beliefs really were, that it acquired the meaning of a theological interpretation of a religious fact. Then came the division of the Church into a Western and an Eastern branch, and never again was it possible to frame a dogma that might be universally held. The 39 Articles of the Church of England, the principles deduced from Calvin’s “Institutes” and John Wesley’s “Sermons,” and the items that compose the Mormon creed may all be classed as dogmas.1 W. J. T. Mitchell, editor of Critical Inquiry, is professor of English and a member of the Committee on Art and Design at the University of Chicago. His most recent book is Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. (shrink)
I might as well say at the outset that, although I can return Christensen’s compliment, and call his response “thoughtful,” I am most interested in those places where the fullness of his thought, and particularly of his own language, has paralyzed his thought in compulsively repetitious patterns, and led him into interpretive maneuvers that he would surely be skeptical about in the reading of a literary text. Even more interesting is the way Christensen’s antipathy to the film, and the violence (...) of the language in which eh expresses the antipathy, has prevented him from registering the plainest sensory and perceptual elements of the film text. In a rather straightforward and literal sense, Christensen has neither seen nor heard Do the Right Thing, but has screened a fantasy film of his own projection. To say Christensen has projected a fantasy, however, is not to say that his response is eccentric or merely private. On the contrary, it is a shared and shareable response, a reflex in the public imaginary of American culture at the present time. As such, it deserves patient and detailed examination. W. J. T. Mithcell, editor of Critical Inquiry, is Gaylord Donnelly Distinguished Service Professor of English and art at the University of Chicago. His most recent book is Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. (shrink)
Every once in awhile an academic drudge gets to visit a place that dreams are made of. We all know the little game in which American scholars compete to mention the exotic locations they have been to: Paris, London, Beijing, Mumbai. But I have never aroused such open jealousy in my colleagues until I uttered the word “Casablanca.”For knowledgeable tourists, this is something of a puzzle. Casablanca is routinely disrespected by the guidebooks for its lack of an authentically ancient medina (...) or a labyrinthine souk, and its paucity of museums leaves the tourist with relatively few obvious destinations. One suspects that much of the aura surrounding the city's name comes from the wholly fictional movie and the associated mystique of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Moroccans are notably marginal in the film, which, in a kind of doubling of colonial occupation, treats Casablanca as an outpost of the Vichy French regime under the thumb of the Nazis. Rick's Café Américain never existed until quite recently, when a retired American diplomat decided to capitalize on the legendary bistro with a simulacrum. The real city is quite modern, with the relics of 1920s colonial art-deco-French architecture serving as a main attraction, along with the thoroughly contemporary mosque of Hassan II, designed by a French architect and finished only in the 1990s. There is also the Corniche, with its surfing beaches and exclusive cafés, clubs, and hotels. (shrink)
This may be an especially favorable moment in intellectual history to come to some understanding of notions like “abstraction” and “the abstract,” if only because these terms seem so clearly obsolete, even antiquated, at the present time. The obsolescence of abstraction is exemplified most vividly by its centrality in a period of cultural history that is widely perceived as being just behind us, the period of modernism, ranging roughly from the beginning of the twentieth century to the aftermath of the (...) Second World War.1art is now a familiar feature of our cultural landscape; it has become a monument to an era that is passing from living memory into history. The experiments of cubism and abstract expressionism are no longer “experimental” or shocking: abstraction has not been associated with the artistic avant-garde for at least a quarter of a century, and its central masterpieces are now firmly entrenched in the tradition of Western painting and safely canonized in our greatest museums. That does not mean that there will be no more abstract paintings, or that the tradition is dead; on the contrary, the obsolescence we are contemplating is in a very precise sense the precondition for abstraction’s survival as a tradition that resists any possible assault from an avant-garde. Indeed, the abstract probably has more institutional and cultural power as a rearguard tradition than it ever did as an avant-garde overturning of tradition. For that very reason its self-representations need to be questioned more closely than ever, especially its account of its own nature and history. This seems important, not just to set the record straight about what abstract art was, but to enable critical and artistic experimentation in the present, and a more nuanced account of both pre-and postmodern at, both of which are in danger of being swallowed up by the formulas of abstract formalism. If art and criticism are to continue to play an oppositional and interventionist role in our time, passive acceptance and reproduction of a powerful cultural tradition like abstract art will simply not do. 1. I define modernism and “the age of abstraction” here in familiar art historical terms, as a period extending from Kandinsky and Malevich to Jasper Johns and Morris Louis. There are other views of this matter which would trace modernism back to the emergence of an avant-garde in the 1840s , or to romanticism , or to the eighteenth century . My claim would be that “the abstract” as such only becomes a definitive slogan for modernism with the emergence of abstract painting around 1900. W. J. T. Mitchell, editor of Critical Inquiry, is professor of English and a member of the Committee on Art and Design at the University of Chicago. His most recent book is Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. (shrink)