This June 2017 Feature Author issue of Mosaic includes, as its opening essay, the public lecture (slightly revised) that Rebecca Comay delivered at the University of Manitoba as Distinguished Visiting Lecturer, “Testament of the Revolution (Walter Benjamin).” Readers of this remarkable essay will gain some sense of the calibre of scholars invited to Manitoba as visiting lecturers and will no doubt recognize how deftly and provocatively Comay relates the testamentary to Walter Benjamin’s work.
Testament of the Revolution (Walter Benjamin)
“Our heritage was left to us without a testament.” Hannah Arendt repeatedly borrows this formula (from René Char) to capture the predicament of revolutionary modernity. Without a testament, without any symbolic means of transmitting the event, there is no way to bequeath the treasure to future generations—to harvest its energy or even to bear witness to what happened. Here’s the thought experiment: what if Char’s formula needs to be reversed? What if the problem is not intestacy but rather a kind of hyper-testamentarity—not a deficit but a surfeit of testamentary protocol? The past confronts us as a thicket of injunctions, promises, exhortations, incitements—obscure messages from the dead, unsigned and undated but time-stamped and addressed to us uniquely. What if the testament itself were the heritage—or rather, if there were no heritage, only the pressure of a demand as enigmatic as it is insistent?
This essay was written as a catalogue essay to accompany Antony Gormley’s exhibition “Expansion Field” at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Switzerland in 2014. “The question of how we speak about artworks connects to the question of how they speak to us: how can a thing—a hunk of inert, inanimate matter—make a claim on us, when does a mute object begin to call upon us, how does it activate our senses and feelings, and why does it provoke our sociability in the way it does? Why does a mute object make us want to talk so much, and how can a lifeless object induce the feeling that we ourselves are somehow more alive for being in its vicinity?” Comay’s essay connects these questions with an investigation of the basic ontology and logic of Gormley’s sculpture: the question of imprint and reprint, where Gormley captures a singular pocket of lived time and space in a receptive medium which forms an infinitely repeatable mould.
Jorie Graham’s Passion for the Reel: The Lyric Subject Encounters the Image
This essay portrays how Jorie Graham’s poetry uses scenes of viewing to dramatize the tenuous historical construction of the lyric subject, arguing that Graham’s engagement with photography and film, in particular, provides an original means to understand the relationship between the historical and the lyrical.
Imitative Identity, Imitative Art, and AI: Artificial Intelligence
Tony E. Jackson
Recent cognitive scientific and social neuroscientific research into human imitation provides a foundation upon which to base an understanding of the appeal of realistic imitation in general, and realistic visual imitation in particular. This essay uses these ideas in an analysis of Steven Spielberg’s 2001 film AI: Artificial Intelligence.
DHTML Dynamics: The Stir/Fry/Texts and the Networked Combinatorics of the Wreader
In its examination of the dynamic heterarchies of Jim Andrews’s Stir/Fry/Texts, this essay argues that Andrews’s work utilizes interactions between digital text, machine, and “wreader” to investigate the poetics of electronic textuality, as well as to reveal how a database aesthetic operates in the context of network culture.
Comment y faire face : La parole faite chair de Virginie Despentes
Auteure-cinéaste, Virginie Despentes a adapté trois de ses romans en film. Elle met en relation ces medias indépendants, mais complémentaires pour interroger le concept de la « femme ». Une analyse narratologique et philosophique de ses livres-films révèle un modèle d’interaction qui transcende les catégories identitaires limitant l’être humain.
Intimate Practices: Music, Sex, and the Body in J. M. Coetzee’s Summertime
This essay addresses the role of music in J. M. Coetzee’s recent prose. Taking Summertime as a central example, it argues that Coetzee finds in music a means of problematizing issues of body and mind, of history and mediation, and of gender and sexuality.
Echoes of Celilo Falls and Native Voices in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Amy S. Fatzinger
Approaching Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with a focus on Bromden and his relationship to Celilo Falls reveals a deeper portrait of Bromden’s identity and motivations. Milos Forman’s adaptation of Cuckoo’s Nest, however, eliminates Celilo and its role in Bromden’s identity, leaving viewers without context for his silence.
Surveillance and Counter-Surveillance in Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly
This essay traces the deleterious effects of surveillance and conspiracy on the post-war subject in Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. The novel concludes with a reparative moment of counter-surveillance that restores the deadened protagonist, thus gesturing to counter-surveillance as a means of finding sustenance amidst a world of total surveillance.
Reading Race and ‘Rita’ in The Lady from Shanghai: Decrypting the Mogul, the Star, and the Auteur
Joshua David Gonsalves
This essay explicates the desire to be independent that derives, I argue, from the moguls who invented Hollywood, resistant actors (James Cagney) and “rogue” producers (David O. Selznick). My historical analysis of this desire as it circulates among these figures will be supplemented by script variations of The Lady from Shanghai.
‘Qui est là?’: Negative Personhood in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea
Coined by Colin Dayan to designate subjects disabled or rendered civilly dead by law, “negative personhood” haunts Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. This essay considers Rhys’s exploration of the violent legacy of slavery that persists post-emancipation under patriarchal and legal regimes.
Mourning, Memorial, and the Yizkor Books in Eli Mandel’s Out of Place
This essay examines Eli Mandel’s long poem Out of Place as a work of mourning and memorial that challenges the efficacy of signification. The poem employs generic attributes of the Yizkor (memorial) books and is a personal and communal monument to the loss of family and community in southern Saskatchewan.
Toward a Slapstick Modernism: Keaton’s The Playhouse
This essay seeks to illuminate the comic underpinnings of the modernist concept of impersonality in order to rethink the rhetorical affinities between T. S. Eliot and Buster Keaton. By rejecting romantic models of self-expression, the poet’s compositional strategy in Inventions of the March Hare and the slapstick filmmaker’s acting technique in The Playhouse exceed notions of fixed identity.
Warwick Thornton’s Mother Courage: A Battle Cry for Aboriginal Art
Warwick Thornton’s installation Mother Courage, prompted by Brecht’s classic drama, addresses the situation of Aboriginal Australians, especially artists, and the politics of their survival. Juxtaposing traditional paintings with contemporary media-based culture, the installation highlights the issue of “authentic” Aboriginal art and displays Aboriginal artists’ diversity and agency.
On Transience, Transcendence, and Sublunar Metaphysics: Seamus Heaney’s Spirit(ual) Level
In Seamus Heaney’s poetry, an alleged transition from an early earthy material transience to an ensuing airy spiritual transcendence has been overemphasized. This essay contends that in Heaney’s sublunar metaphysics transience and transcendence go hand in hand, so that spirituality is grasped in his alchemical verse in and through materiality.
Langage, subjectivation et identité chez Seamus Heaney
M. Reza Ghorbanian K.
L’oeuvre poétique de Seamus Heaney est la scène des explorations archéologiques et étymologiques qui déconstruisent le langage. Cette étude démontre comment l’archéologie du langage aboutit à la construction d’une nouvelle langue qui constitue le récit de la subjectivation, la construction d’un nouveau sujet.