To save this undefined to your undefined account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your undefined account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
This essay considers the American reception of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner in the context of the Bush administration's global war on terrorism by examining the customer reviews of the novel posted on Amazon. As many of the responses indicate, identification serves as a paradoxical means of negotiating with fictional representations of foreignness. The intense and painful empathy inspired by The Kite Runner serves a valorizing function for American readers, strengthening their sense of their own humanity—an effect that resists strict political categorization. Hosseini's ambivalent conception of what it means to be human, I argue, supports a diversity of competing attitudes toward the United States' military intervention in the Middle East and central Asia, while simultaneously catering to fantasies of escape from ideological and cultural divisions altogether.
During the past several decades, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has been widely represented in novels, memoirs, film, television, and other genres and media. What distinguishes representations of OCD from depictions of other mental disorders is the frequency with which OCD is treated with humor and levity. Drawing on genre theory, disability studies, and philosophies of humor, this essay explains why OCD symptomatology evokes laughter and resonates with contemporary popular culture. The essay focuses on the ways in which popular portrayals of OCD distort the actual experience of the disorder.
Popularized in Spain through the work of the Italian satirist Traiano Boccalini, the motif of the occhiali politici, or political lenses, is one of the most understudied conceits in early modern Spanish satire. This essay examines four early modern Spanish texts where anteojos de larga vista (“eyeglasses” or “telescopes”) become central elements as the eye is given the ability to perceive the reality beyond deceptive appearances. But a capacity to see beyond reveals two parallel concerns: the adoption of spectacles as a mark of social distinction by a society suffering from the moral blindness these novels denounce and the increasing tensions between astronomy and religion stemming from the use of lenses as stargazing tools. Contextualizing these anxieties in the contemporary polemics regarding the divulgation of Galileo's Copernican theses, I illustrate how a simple corrective instrument triggered a fierce debate at the center of Spain's uneven modernity.
This essay posits that literary studies at the University of Hong Kong during the cold war 1950s exemplify how English as an academic subject is transmuted through the peripheral voices that engage with metropolitan literature. Focusing on the term “imagination's commonwealth,” which the poet and critic Edmund Blunden (1896–1974) invented to denote transnational literary communion, I show how it departs from imperial literary diffusion and how Blunden's poetry and professorial career at Hong Kong University enact the departure. As his interlocutors and partners, Blunden's students played a crucial role in the emergence of a literary commonwealth. In their dialogue with Blunden, they not only query his conception but also push against the boundaries of their own colonial and cold war situation.
This essay uses Shakespeare's sonnets to test the implications of the fantasy that poems, although not living things, preserve human life. The most valuable object in the community of the sonnets is the face of a beautiful young man. The speaker in the poems argues that the young man should entrust his most valuable quality to some technology of preservation, such as sexual reproduction or poetry. In every scenario, his beauty is preserved in a form that will not allow him to enjoy it: he inevitably has to die while his beauty lives on. Preservation thus turns out to be an unattractive plan against the fact of mortality and the possibility of holocaust. The fantasy of preservation is compatible with and even encourages a holocaust fantasy: everyone else has to die to prove that the young man's beautiful face is indestructible.
At the turn of the nineteenth century, Friedrich Schlegel developed an influential theory of irony that anticipated some of the central concerns of post-modernity. His most vocal contemporary critic, the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, sought to demonstrate that Schlegel's theory of irony tacitly relied on certain problematic aspects of Johann Gottlieb Fichte's philosophy. While Schlegel's theory of irony has generated seemingly endless commentary in recent critical discourse, Hegel's critique of Schlegelian irony has gone neglected. This essay's primary aim is to defend Hegel's critique of Schlegel by isolating irony's underlying Fichtean epistemology. Drawing on S⊘ren Kierkegaard's The Concept of Irony in the final section of this essay, I argue that Hegel's critique of irony can motivate a dialectical hermeneutics that offers a powerful alternative both to Paul de Man's poststructuralist hermeneutics and to recent cultural-studies-oriented criticism that tends to reduce literary texts to sociohistorical epiphenomena.
During the seventeenth century, the Baroque was exported wholesale to the areas of the world being colonized by Catholic Europe. It is one of the few satisfying ironies of European imperial domination worldwide that the baroque worked poorly as a colonizing instrument. Its visual and verbal forms are ample, dynamic, porous, and permeable, and in all areas colonized by Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the baroque was itself eventually colonized. In the New World, its transplants immediately began to incorporate the cultural perspectives and iconographies of the indigenous and African laborers and artisans who built and decorated Catholic structures. Cultural heresies (and heretics) often entered unnoticed or were ignored for reasons of expediency. Asian influences arrived on the Nao de China (the Manila Galleon) with artifacts from Japan, China, the Moluccas, and the Philippines, destined for Europe but portaged across New Spain, thus joining the diverse cultural streams that over time came to constitute the New World baroque. And, in time, the baroque was also transformed in Europe by New World influences: its materials (silver from Mexico and Peru, ivory from the Philippines), its motifs (fauna and flora from the Caribbean, the Orinoco, the Amazon), and its methods (artistic, doctrinal, indoctrinating).
We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, if you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
—Aide to George W. Bush, quoted by Ronald Suskind
Why the Baroque? Why now? As many have argued, the general aesthetic trend of the late twentieth to early twenty-first centuries, often called postmodern, can perhaps more usefully be labeled neobaroque. Is the neobaroque turn of the twentieth century something akin to the neoclassicism of the sixteenth century, or the neo-Gothicism of the nineteenth? Or, on an even more condensed scale, is it similar to the rapid returns of previously dismissed fashion decades, as evidenced by the proliferation in the early years of this century of those beads and bellbottoms associated with flower children and the age of Aquarius?
Among the most historically fixed of art historical and literary concepts, the Baroque arises at the intersection of early modern classicism, imperialism, and science—that is, out of the high Renaissance—to become a kind of antiprogram of resistances: to the absolutist state, the rise of empirical science, the pressures of empire, and other sixteenth-century signs of the gathering regimentation of knowledge. With a flourish of forms and a play of perspectives, the baroque embodies the recoil from such regimentation and the gathering sense that all these systems for organizing human experience fall short in the face of disorder, contingency, and death. Seen from certain vantages, the specimens of the baroque often seem complicit with the projects of absolutism, empire, and late humanism; but regarded in all their dimensions, such works are often complex reactions, critical and compromised, to those projects.
Cuba assumes a special place in the genealogy of the latin American Baroque and its twentieth-century recuperation, ongoing in our twenty-first century—the neobaroque. As Alejo Carpentier has pointed out (and as architectural critics confirm), the Caribbean lacks a monumental architectural baroque heritage comparable with that of the mainland, such as the hyperornate Churrigueresque ultrabaroque of central Mexico and Peru (fig. 1). Nevertheless, it was two Cuban intellectuals, Alejo Carpentier and José Lezama Lima, who spearheaded a new turn in neobaroque discourse after World War II by popularizing the notion of an insurgent, mestizo New World baroque unique to the Americas. Carpentier and Lezama Lima are the key authors of the notion of a decolonizing American baroque, a baroque that expressed contraconquista (counterconquest), as Lezama punned, countering the familiar identification of the baroque with the repressive ideology of the Counter-Reformation and its allies, the imperial Catholic Iberian states (80). Lezama and Carpentier argue that the imported Iberian state baroque was transformed into the transculturated, syncretic New World baroque at the hands of the (often anonymous) native artisans who continued to work under the Europeans, grafting their own indigenous traditions onto the iconography of the Catholic baroque style. The New World baroque is a product of the confluence (however unequal) of Iberian, pre-Columbian, and African cultures during the peaceful seventeenth century and into the eighteenth in Spain's and Portugal's territories in the New World. The examples studied by Lezama and Carpentier are all from the monumental baroque sculpture and architecture of Mexico, the Andes, and Brazil's Minas Gerais province: the work of the Brazilian mulatto artist O Aleijadinho (Antônio Francisco Lisboa [1738–1814]; see fig. 2 in Zamora in this issue) and the indigenous Andean artist José Kondori (dates unknown; see fig. 1 in Zamora), central Mexico's Church of San Francisco Xavier Tepotzotlán (fig. 1), and the folk baroque Church of Santa María Tonantzintla (see fig. 3 in Zamora), to mention a few landmarks and names.
During the Baroque period, Luis De GÓngora y Argote (1561–1627) wrote the first Spanish-language closeted literature. Some three hundred years later, the challenging originality of his closet verse, openly studied and appreciated by a cultured, intellectual elite, played a pivotal role in the development of homosexual literature in the early-twentieth-century avant-garde movements of Spain and Latin America. This essay will briefly explore how twentieth-century Mexican avant-garde writers expressed the closet using baroque models. The thesis is that the rhetorical strategies of obscuritas provided Góngora an ideal instrument for representing the closet, which in literature is defined as a symbolic space that allows writers to represent and readers to recognize homosexuality in a heterosexual context. The pertinent OED definition of closet as an adjective reads, “secret, covert, used esp. with reference to homosexuality” (“Closet”). This recognized use of obscuritas is validated further in the observations of the Peruvian colonial writer Espinosa Medrano, one of Góngora's seventeenth-century commentators, who epitomizes the consolidation of baroque aesthetics in Hispanic America by the criollo elite. The final chapter in this tour of the baroque closet will examine how the Mexican avant-garde became aware of obscuritas through Federico García Lorca's Gongorine lectures and poetry.
Carlos Monsiváis is hard to pin down. He is a chronicler of every aspect of Mexican reality past and present; A cultural critic focusing on poetry, film, art, and music; and an erudite essayist committed to the connections between elite and popular cultures. His style is both acerbic and festive in ways that epitomize the Mexican character, and nothing escapes his incisive curiosity: the cult of national heroes that finds its twin in the society of spectacle, the cultural migrations between television talk and devotional discourse, the mass movements that advance and recede in a welter of democratic projects. As an intellectual, Carlos Monsiváis is unique in (and to) Mexico. You cannot walk in this country without seeing or hearing him on every street corner, nor can you open a book without sensing his influence. His presence is so omnímoda—so omnimodal—that we no longer know which came first: Mexican culture as Monsiváis observes it, or Monsiváis observing Mexican culture.
Rethinking Simone de Beauvoir for the Twenty-First
The past twenty years have seen a beauvoir revival in feminist theory. Feminist philosophers, political scientists, and historians of ideas have all made powerful contributions to our understanding of her philosophy, above all The Second Sex. Literary studies have lagged somewhat behind. Given that Beauvoir always defined herself as a writer rather than as a philosopher (Moi, Simone de Beauvoir 52–57), this is an unexpected state of affairs. Ursula Tidd's explanation is that Beauvoir's existentialism is theoretically incompatible with the poststructuralist trends that have dominated feminist criticism:
Viewed as unsympathetic to “écriture féminine” and to feminist differentialist critiques of language, Beauvoir's broadly realist and “committed” approach to literature has been deemed less technically challenging than experimental women's writing exploring the feminine, read through the lens of feminist psychoanalytic theory.
The view that philosophers take of their art and craft changes when they remember that philosophy is not merely descriptive but is also performative. To use J. L. Austin's vocabulary, this change occurs when philosophers admit that their writings have illocutionary and perlocutionary, as well as locutionary, import. Any proposition is at once a judgment made by a thinking person and an expressive utterance presented to an audience; any argument is rational persuasion (even when it is quoted in a logic textbook). To speak with Stanley Cavell and Ludwig Wittgenstein, from their caravansaries along the trade route between Harvard and Cambridge, the change occurs when philosophers admit that their writings always take place in language games and forms of life, so that the search for criteria in framing concepts and for evidence in framing arguments is also a claim to community. Aristotle, more than two thousand years ago, urged similar insights and questions on philosophers when he wrote about rhetoric as an extension of logic and ethics. Filtered through the editorial work of Richard McKeon, the Aristotelian tradition at the University of Chicago produced books about practical deliberation that to my mind deserve at least as much attention as those of Cavell and Austin, works by Wayne Booth, Edward Levi, David Luban, Paul Kahn, and Eugene Garver. Notably, their texts deal with works of literature and of law, discursive realms in which narratives of human action are central and irreducible, however much they may be subject to philosophical analysis.
In the ethics of ambiguity (1947), Simone De Beauvoir suggests that to be human is to be subject to change and contradiction. Paradox, she claimed, was the only truth concerning human existence because of the tension created between mortality and the desire to give meaning to life. “Death,” Beauvoir suggests, “challenges our existence. … [I]t also gives meaning to our life” (Prime 731). Unlike Albert Camus, however, she clearly refuses to conceive of existence as absurd. “To declare existence absurd is to deny that I can ever be given meaning; to say that it is ambiguous is to assert that its meaning is never fixed” (Ethics 129). Recognizing the facticity created by the inevitability of death and the constraints death imposes on existence, she implores us, nevertheless, to seize our freedom and give meaning to it through ethical acts.