Review: The Spivak Reader


“Some paradox of our natures leads us, when once we have made our fellow men the objects of our enlightened interest, to go on to make them the objects of our pity, then of our wisdom, ultimately of our coercion.”
(Cited from Lionel Trilling in an article about him by Edward Rothstein in “The New York Times” for 29 July 2000.)

My look at The Spivak Reader (edited by Donna Landry and Gerald Maclean [Routledge: New York and London, 1996]) presents me as reviewer with a formidable task.  The essays collected herein are written by a critic who is world-renowned and is considered by many, including the admiring editors of this volume, as “most powerfully suggestive” (10) and possessed of “an incomparable ability to address the specific circumstances in which she finds herself and intervene accordingly” (29);  hence it admittedly takes more than a little arrogance on my part to say what I shall say below.  At the outset I would like it understood with as dazzling a clarity as that of a noon-day sun lapping a glittering sea that my comments below are never ad hominem but only ad textum as it were.

But this volume, like its renown, puzzles me deeply.  I find the text in many places incomprehensible, at times on the grounds of outright incoherence, at others, of wildly elliptical saltations in the argument, and, again, of utterly bizarre subject matter.  I am the first to grant that the fault may very well lie in my own intellectual inadequacy and not in these texts; I have tried hard to decode the material and have, obviously, for the most part failed to do so.  I thus report only my own private — perhaps even unfair and ignorant — musings about what I see as the opaque enterprise offered in this turgid volume.

Begin by considering the following observation from Chapter 3, a 1985 essay entitled “Feminism and Critical Theory” (60):

“… the literature of the world, itself accessible only to a few, is not tied by the concrete universals of a network of archetypes – a theory that was entailed by the consolidation of a political excuse — but by a textuality of material, ideological,  psychosexual production.”

If I understand this statement correctly, it implies that all of literature (“the literature of the world”) excludes oral literature (which surely is not “accessible only to a few”) – which seems to me a reductio ad absurdum.  That is, oral literature is not literature;  but surely that is precisely the literature that is accessible to all.  Or is “textuality” only something applicable to written literature?  Did Homer not have “textuality”?  or “Beowulf”? or Arabic encomia sung in Iraq in honor of Sadam Hussein at the start of the Gulf War?

Are “the concrete universals of a network of archetypes” a reference to Jungian Tiefenpsychologie? If so, the statement is simply wrong, “(the concrete universals of) a network of archetypes” being central to Jungian analysis.  If not Jungian “archetypes”, then what kind?  Furthermore, why “concrete universals”?  Would “the literature of the world” be “tied by the” abstract “universals of a network of archetypes?”  or by the “concrete” or abstract specifics “of universals of a network of archetypes”?  Is the word “archetypes” here merely a synonym for ‘patterns’, ‘prototypes’, ‘templates’, what?  Without a further precision, this phrase (“the concrete universals of a network of archetypes”) strikes me as so fuzzy as to be either utterly meaningless or polysemously and therefore chaotically meaningful.

I am inferring (whether justifiably or not, I am not sure) from the characterization of the phrase in question as “a theory that was entailed by the consolidation of a political excuse” that Jung and his “archetypes” are not the point here.  So I am left adrift, bobbing like a cork, in a semantic and syntactic sea.  Again, it may well be my ignorance that prevents me from appreciating what “political excuse” ‘consolidates’ or ‘is consolidated by’ (the precise sense here depends on whether one is to take “of” in this phrase as functioning subjectively or objectively relative to the head noun [“consolidation”]) the entailment of the “theory” that is “the concrete universals of a network of archetypes” (or is the “theory” to be understood as “the literature of the world, itself accessible only to a few, is not tied by the concrete universals of a network of archetypes”?).  And since it “was entailedis it no longer “entailed”?

It is impossible for me to pretend to know what is signified by the observation that “a textuality of material, ideological, psychosexual production” ties “the literature of the world”.  Ties together?  ties tightly?  ties in knots?  How is “textuality” being used here?  Is the root etymology of ‘weave’ prominent here – perhaps picking up on “tie” earlier on?  or that of “constructing” (cognate with Greek *tekton*)?  Thus literature is “tied” by the weave, or construction, of “material, ideological, psychosexual production”?  At the least, the semantic broadening of “textuality” in this phrase seems quite radical:  somehow, in this case, it is the ‘construction’ or ‘weave’ of “material, ideological, psychosexual production” that “ties” “the literature of the world”.  What is the signification of “psychosexual”?  Are we to invoke Freud?  Krafft-Ebbing?  Kinsey?  And what is “psychosexual production”?  Sexual fantasies?  intercourse?  masturbation?  babies?

Finally, then, no matter how I twist and turn the words, phrases and syntax of the citation, as if I were rotating it in a constantly transforming and thus perhaps ultimately gelling kaleidoscope of language, the whole eludes me entirely.  Perhaps that is the point, for, as Spivak emphatically notes elsewhere (54), “no rigorous definition of anything is ultimately possible”.  (Itself a perilous, injudicious and, in my view, naïvely foolish assertion: what about a derivative in calculus?  I can, for example, very, very rigorously and with Leibnitzian and Newtonian certainty always define the second derivative of seven x to the fifth power as one-hundred-forty x cubed; and in geometry I can guarantee beyond any Euclidean doubt that the sum of the angles of any triangle will always be defined as 180 degrees!)

In any event, I simply do not know what is being said in that original citation; I am simply incapable of offering an honest précis of it.  I am trapped in an epistemological blind alley.  Reader, help me understand!

I confess, moreover, that when I next read (still on page 60) in the immediately following paragraph that “… I proposed recently an analysis of ‘the discourse of the clitoris’” and among other exegetical turns come across the observation that “the clitoris, even as I acknowledge and honor its irreducible physiological effect, is, in this reading, also a shorthand for women’s excess in all areas of production and practice, an excess which must be brought under control to keep business going as usual” – then, I confess, then I most assuredly do not know whether to laugh or merely accept graciously that I as reader am simply being played.  (Perhaps as a mere male [my bad!] – and one with clitoris-envy unacknowledged to myself, at that — I couldn’t possibly “be expected to understand”).  Of course, in an era where a recent Off-Broadway hit went by the name of the “Vagina Monologues”, “the discourse of the clitoris” would seem to be a snug fit, as it were.

In any event, to me at least, this ‘clitoral’ excursus seems a short transition and a long mile from literary or even cultural criticism.  This is show-biz – or cult religion!

Many pages of this book can proffer similarly opaque writing, and I would not wish to bore the reader with further attempts at analysis.  But I cite just a few additional passages that give me extreme difficulty both in their own right and even in their context, and urge the reader to make whatever sense of them his or her inventive imagination can conjure forth.

[55]  “To my way of thinking, the discourse of the literary text is part of a general configuration of textuality, a placing forth of the solution as the unavailability of a unified solution to a unified or homogeneous, generating or receiving, consciousness.”

[71]  “I should mention here that the suggestion that mother and daughter have ‘the same body’ and therefore the female child experiences what amounts to an unalienated pre-Oedipality argues from an individual-pathetic point of view of alienation and locates as discovery the essentialist presuppositions about the sexed body’s identity.  This reversal of Freud remains also a legitimation.”

[119]  “Now if the dynamics of birth-growth-family-life reproduction is given as much attention as, let us say, the relationship between fixed and variable capitals in their several moments, the “materialist” predication of the subject as labor-power is rendered indeterminate in another way, without therefore being “refuted” by varieties of utopianism and “idealism.”  This expansion of the textuality of value has often gone unrecognized by feminists as well mainstream Marxists, when they are caught within hegemonic positivism or orthodox dialectics.”

Say what?

A few words on economics.  The conclusion to Chapter 4 (“Revolutions That As Yet Have No Model: Derrida’s ‘Limited Inc.’” [1980]) goes after “advanced capitalism” [101] in a spirited attack.  Fault is found with the “doctrine of individual uniqueness” and “individual centrality” because, it is claimed, they result in a “lack of any conceivable interest in a collective practice toward social justice, or in recognizing the ethico-politically repressive construction of what presents itself as theoretical, legal, benign, free, or natural.”  The fifth chapter (“Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value” [1985]) then mounts a robust explication and defense of the marxist theory of value and takes to task capitalist exploitation brought about by globalization.

I obviously just don’t get it.  Was there no exploitation before the arrival of globalization? of Western marketing and technology?  Was there no exploitation by communist regimes?  I’d like a definition of exploitation that signifies more than a sour irredentist incorporation of all that is Western.

What I find so striking about these intellectual gymnastics and stylistic gyrations is their reflection of a truly astonishing ideological obduracy regarding a bankrupt political and economic system that not even Castro or Dear Leader Kim Jong Il (while still alive!) any longer believe(d) in.  Does Kim Jong-un?  It is true that both these essays were written before the implosion of real-world communism, but, as the editors are at pains to point out (107-8, 267-268) and as is clear from Spivak’s postmural writing, this (in my view shameless) fetishizing and hegemonizing of marxism has in no way ceased since that time.  Is one to assume, then, that the collectivist madness of Mao’s cultural revolution, Stalin’s purges, Pol Pot’s emptying of the cities are desirable examples – to name a few – of “a collective practice toward social justice” or somehow not examples of an “ethico-politically repressive construction of what presents itself as theoretical, legal, benign, free, or natural”?  The intellectuals’ counter-argument will run along something like the following lines:  the only problem with the failure of socialism is that the crooks who applied it applied it wrongly, and, with the self-dismantling of communism, that the thugs who put marxism into practice just did it wrong; or, consider this truly desperate and loathsome if predictable exculpation by our text (142), “The misadventures [Note 1 below] of international communism might teach us something about the violent consequences of imposing the most fragile part of Marx, the predictive Eurocentric scenario, upon large parts of the globe not historically centered in Europe.”  (Once more, those monstrous, those ever oppressing Eurocentrics, even when they are communists!)  But now “they” know how to get it right.  Well, for one chilling peek at how modern communism (in Viet Nam, at about the same time these essays were being written with such blind confidence) really worked at the quotidian level of dehumanizing ordinary people, get hold of Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong (Penguin Books, 1994; reprinted 2002); translated by Phan Huy Duong and Nina McPherson) — then read it and weep!

But capitalism, of course, doesn’t work, can’t work, won’t work.

Have any of the cultural critics of American capitalism who occupy highly paid university chairs funded by American capitalists ever been bothered by the fact that it was capitalist America that rescued collectivist Europe from the horrifying real-world consequences of political theories like fascism and communism dreamed up by European intellectuals?  Don’t misunderstand me here — I believe profoundly that all should speak out and speak out freely, but how much speaking out would there be or has there been in any known communist dictatorship?  Indeed, can anyone show me a single one that worked in the past or is working in the present?  To believe that any future one will is, in view of the historical evidence, simply froward;  the history that I at any rate have studied suggests that the real problems for human beings come precisely at that point when they are no longer deemed autonomous individuals by their polities but merely a coercible collective subjected to the soteriological ministrations of the anointed – this was as true for Periclean (cf. the slaves, the allies in the Delian League) and post-Periclean Athens (cf. the “enemies of the people” who ran afoul of The Thirty) as it recently was (and probably still is) for contemporary Burma [aka Myanmar] (cf. the Karen minority [The Japan Times 1998]).

I don’t know what the solution is to the often inhuman and inhumane labor conditions that Spivak rightly excoriated so long ago and unfortunately still exist in the Third World today, but it is not clear that these are to be laid exclusively at the complicitous door of greedy American capitalists, either then or now.  Consider the following statement from the Far Eastern Economic Review for 13 July 2000, page 76: “Such conditions exist because governments often consider the foreign investment more important than the welfare of individual workers. [NB the lack of interest in the individual by the foreign government – my note] Authoritarian [e.g., communist, fascist – my note] governments in particular want no part of independent labour groups that fight for workers’ rights.  And whenever it is suggested that groups such as the World Trade Organization take the baton and set global minimum labour standards, poorer countries cry protectionism.”  I find it hard to imagine anyone urging in consequence that Western governments and industries should actively intervene and do a neocolonial end-run around such repressive polities in order to liberate and dignify their human labor.  And I am certainly not persuaded that some inchoately proposed recourse to “a collective practice toward social justice” will effect the kind of change that all of us hegemonic Western oppressor-types would agree are highly desirable.  It seems somehow ingenuous, then, to pawn off these dreadful conditions as the economic chimeras only of Western capitalism and globalization – what were local conditions like before Western capitalism and globalization entered the picture?  For that matter, should Eastern capitalism (i.e., Japanese industry, Chinese state capitalism) stay out of Viet Nam or Cambodia on postcolonial theoretical grounds?  And, finally, are not the critics who enjoy lofty salaries made possible by American capitalism in fact themselves deeply complicitous in that very complicity in the alleged exploitation of non-Western labor for which they so vigorously condemn that same American capitalism?

Chapter 6 (“More on Power/Knowledge” [1992]) is a tough, tough read, “[r]eading Foucault’s nominalism by way of Derrida” (144), and I feel a certain unease that I have not understood it well at all.  Pondering why, I think I may have found the answer as I linger over the following observation early on in the essay (145-6):

“’Power’ in the general sense is therefore not only a name, but a catachresis.  Like all names it is a misfit. [my emphasis]  To use this name to describe a generality inaccessible to intended description is necessarily to work with the risk that the word ‘is wrested from its proper meaning,’ that it is being applied ‘to a thing which it does not properly denote’ (OED).  We cannot find a proper place – it must be effaced as it is disclosed.”

The assertion, if true, would seem only destructively true to me.  Furthermore, if its implicit minatory message had been heeded ab origine, should it not have guaranteed that we in the Indo-European speech community would still be speaking Proto-Indo-European?  But we do not. The statement that “water is wet” holds no great explanatory power; the statement that using a “name to describe a generality inaccessible to intended description is necessarily to work with the risk that the word ‘is wrested from its proper meaning,’ that it is being applied ‘to a thing which it does not properly denote’” certainly holds no greater explanatory power.  Indeed, the citation seems to assure its own decomposition.  For if, as is claimed, all names are a misfit, so is the name ‘catachresis’, and then the assertion that “’Power’ in the general sense is therefore not only a name, but a catachresis” itself runs “the risk that the word [viz. catachresis – my note] ‘is wrested from its proper meaning,’ that it is being applied ‘to a thing which it does not properly denote’ (OED).  We cannot find a proper place – it must be effaced as it is disclosed.”  And if that word (catachresis) must be effaced, the original assertion becomes, as far as I can tell, a kind of infinite loop of linguistic gibberish — and not much help to the project of Chapter 6.  For all “names” in it will be misfits and will, being collectively applied in improper fashion, thoroughly babelize (I, too, neologize!) understanding. Is the entire chapter then “effaced”?

We can move on to Chapter 7 (“Echo”), an extended discussion of narcissism by way of Freud and, more extensively, Ovid.  There are of course those who no longer put the traditional stock in Freudian theory, having replaced it with the seductive siren song of evolutionary psychology and neurochemistry, and the author of this essay does hint some reservations of her own about Freud (177-178).   But the central foundation for the argument in this chapter emerges from a highly selective and surprisingly idiosyncratic misreading of Ovid’s narrative of Echo and Narcissus in Metamorphoses 3.372-540.  This engagement with Ovid is, frankly, a mess, as disgraceful as it is embarrassing.  As I went through this discussion for the third or fourth time I got to thinking about two analogies.  The first, given the Freudian connection here, is that of literature as Rorschach test — and the more foreign the better.  You see in the text whatever you want, and if you don’t, you just rearrange the blobs until you do.  The second, more extended analogy, is that of a hegemonic critic invading a distant text and colonizing it; equipped with all the normal accoutrements of oppression associated with the colonial enterprise, he is appallingly ignorant of the colonized’s history and cultural details.  Not unlike the way Said vacuously claims in Orientalism that Europeans simply imposed their own “reading” on the Middle East and erroneously invested these cultures with their own prejudiced fantasies of what they should be (kind of like those cultures do today regarding the West!), so this modern critic brings to the oppressed and helpless ancient text a prefabricated understanding of what it should signify.  Analogously to the colonial’s operations in his vanquished territories, the textual hegemon picks and chooses those parts of the invaded poem that will fit the requirements of the desired analysis.  And if need be, he then massages and reshapes the plundered material for his own purposes, ignoring all that could interfere with the intended interpretation.  He means well, but in his hermeneutic avidity violates the integrity of the original text and context in astonishing ways, constructing an interpretive superstructure destined to collapse on the soggy foundation of a wholly inadequate appreciation for the language and traditions of the colonized text.

Ovid did not write in a vacuum, nor did his readers read in one.

(In the following comments line citations are to Book 3 [unless otherwise noted] of the Teubner ‘editio altera’ of P. Ovidii Nasonis Metamorphoses [Leipzig, 1982] by W. S. Anderson.) Certainly one feature of the analysis presented to us that grotesquely warps the entire reading is its failure to allocute the intertextual typology of the Ovidian narrative.  It is ancient already in Ovid’s day, first laid out in Homer in a military context, then eroticised in Sappho, so regularized in Callimachus, and, finally, most directly made accessible to Ovid in the Narrationes amatoriae of Parthenius.  (For the linguistic details, see pages 222-223 and note 12 of my paper, “Maugham’s ‘The Pool’: the Classical Influence,” Classical and Modern Literature 13.3 [1993] 217-227)  Ovid’s tale of Narcissus and Echo is but one of some twenty variants of the type in the Metamorphoses displaying essentially the identical narrative morphology.  Given that in the vast majority of these the pursuer is male and the pursued a female, one would think some comment on the inversion in the Narcissus and Echo variant ought to have been forthcoming (the other two exceptions are the accounts of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus [4.285-388] and of Anaxarete and Iphis [14.698-761]).

Echo is presented to us in Chapter 7 only as victim.  The “attempt to ‘give woman’ to Echo, to deconstruct her out of traditional and deconstructive representation and (non)representation, however imperfectly” (Spivak 176) and the move “to Echo as the (un)intending subject of ethics” (190) each derives from a highly selective presentation of how Ovid in fact characterizes her.  For she is what in current legal terminology is known as a ‘sexual facilitator’ (362-5) and a ‘stalker’ (375-376; 371-2: … sequitur vestigia furtim. / quoque magis sequitur, flamma propiore calescit), just as the males in the more common variants are stalkers of the females;  and she displays the unstable psychological profile of the stalker as one whose obsession with the object of desire rejection merely intensifies (395: … haeret amor crescitque dolore repulsae;  cf. 387, 493).  Therefore, given Ovid’s specular use of language (e.g., sitim … sitis [415], corpore … corpus [417], dignos … dignos [431], miratur … mirabilis [424], probat … probatur [425], petit, petitur [426], videat … videt [430], quod … quod [433], discedet … discedere [436], placet et video … videoque placetque [446 – NB the iconic chiasmus], etc. etc.) and the thematics of specular gemination (e.g., 416, 420, 427-429, 439, 451-452, 475-476) in this narrative, one may be justified in deeming churlish the hermeneutic strategy of deciding not to recognize and acknowledge the unavoidable point that the poet has run a mirror-image variation on the typology such that the woman is the violator and the man the potentially violated.  The inversion of this variant has among other things (e.g., the brilliance of the poetic acrobatics) the effect of universalizing the theme of ardent pursuit, thwarted desire, and their consequences.  The dismissive, disingenuous exclusion of these considerations from analysis of the narrative then facilitates the critic’s extraction from it of the “imago” as it were of his own interests.  In short, why does the reading of Echo in chapter 7 omit discussion of the full characterization of the Ovidian Echo?  I certainly agree (Spivak 178) that this story is about self-knowledge.  But since I am convinced that Ovid, a poetic craftsman beyond compare and one profoundly insightful into human motivation, knew exactly what he was doing, I am not persuaded of the feeling (179) “that Ovid himself, against his probable intentions, had monumentalized in neglected Echo the random possibility of the emergence of an occasional truth of a kind.”  Of course, once we become omniscient and start reading our author “against his probable intentions” we are free to read anything and everything we want into and out of any text.

There are dire deficits in the exploitation of the Latin text for the purpose of promoting the conceptual project in Chapter 7.  I admit that in the following I am being extremely picky, and someone might feel that these “minor” errors in no way harm the larger whole.  But an argument built, as the one in this chapter is, on the putatively careful analysis of linguistic data must surely, if it is to be valid, have as foundation an accurate reading of the Latin.  This, alas, is not the case – not just once, but repeatedly, and in more than one instance in the matter of validating one of the signature propositions advanced in the chapter.  Ovid is cited from the Loeb edition of the “Metamorphoses” translated by Frank Justus Miller, but the “translations [are] modified” (Spivak 198 note 16), presumably by Spivak.  And herein undoubtedely lies much of the problem.

In attempting to see “a curious connection between Ovid’s stated project in the Metamorphoses and Freud’s stated project in the narcissism essays” the author cites (180) the following translation of the opening sentence of Ovid’s poem: “My mind is bent to tell of bodies changed into new forms.”  Unfortunately, that is not what the Latin says.  The problematics of “My mind is bent” aside, what Ovid proposes doing is “to tell of forms changed into new bodies” (in nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas / corpora).  To ignore the cementing of agreement (desinences aside) of “nova” and “corpora” by the metrical identity of “in nova” and “corpora”, as well as the vocalic identities of “nOvA” and “corpOrA”, and arbitrarily to ignore the congruent desinences of “mutatas” and “formas”, is to do gratuitous violence of an extreme kind to the Latin text – and for what purpose other than to shape a translation to one’s liking?  Who tampered with this translation?  If it was Miller, this is surely a stellar example of a passage where the “translation[s ought to have been severely] modified”!  Well, you say, so what? what difference does it make – after all, it was just a little aside on page 180 of Chapter 7?  I won’t answer such a mindless question!

On page 181 Ovid’s climactic “iste ego sum” (463) is translated as “I am that.”  Not even close!  In the context, the simple “that” is meaningless:  “that” what?  This feeble approximation ignores the topicalizing of the phrase and in particular the deictic “iste” in the hexameter’s opening, the less than common trithemimeral caesura followed immediately by the penthemimeral caesura, the semantics of contempt that inheres in “iste”, and, perhaps most important, the iconic elision of self (‘ego’) in “Ist[e] ego” / “Iste [e]go”.  The topicalization “fronts” the discovery, the caesurae set up through an iconic metrics the subsequent ‘falling apart’ that comes in lines 465-6, the semantics of “iste” calls attention to a certain understandable contempt for self on the part of the finally understanding Narcissus, and the metrically required elision may be seen to prefigure the final elision of body and ego-ness (liquefacta [486], liquitur [490], nusquam corpus erat [509]):  “Iste ego sum” is perhaps (?) very imperfectly something like “Ugh! There I’m!”  As to the assertion (181) that this phrase is “a rewriting … into an ecstatic ‘Thou art that’’’ I confess to a profound bewilderment and leave it at that.  But Spivak clearly (and rightly, though, in my opinion, as should be clear from this discussion, for entirely the wrong reasons) finds the phrase of great significance, reiterating it in various contexts at pages 182 and 191.  And on page 190 there is a garbled rewriting of the phrase as if Ovid had wanted “to make Echo say I am it now:  nunc sum ego iste.  Why the palindromic word order, and, for heaven’s sake, why “iste” instead of “ista”?  Is there some hyper-subtle ‘gendered’ point here that I am missing?  It is all quite frightfully muddled.

One of the signature propositions (another is vox manet, whose point I decline to comment further on in the interest of attempting to contain a review that has of necessity already grown much too long) in this chapter is what comes to be called the “fly from me” gesture, and it is articulated in various contexts some ten times (183, 184, 185[3], 186[4] and 199.27).  In all honesty, despite reading the relevant passages of this chapter numerous times, I am not entirely sure I can put my finger on what Spivak intends with this proposition.  But in setting it up on page 183 in a discussion of lines 383-384, she makes the following observation, which perhaps suggests something of that intention:

“Caught in the discrepancy between the second person interrogative (fugis) and the imperative (fugi [sic]), Ovid cannot allow her to be, even Echo, so that Narcissus, flying from her, could have made the ethical structure a response a fulfilled antiphone.  He reports her speech in the name of Narcissus:  quot dixit, verba recepit (M, 150, line 384) – he receives back the words he says.  The discrepancy is effaced by the discrepancy of translation.  In English, Echo could have echoed ‘Fly from me’ and remained echo.”

Something is drastically amiss here.  Can it be unpacked?

In the context of lines 383-384 all direct responses that Ovid has Echo make are in fact just that, direct responses that are exact repetitions of Narcissus’ final words (cf. the punishment Juno laid on Echo: tamen haec [viz. Echo] in fine loquendi / ingeminat voces auditaque verba reportat [368-369];  illa parata est / exspectare sonos, ad quos sua verba remittat [377-378]).  Thus at 380, Narcissus’ “ecquis adest” becomes Echo’s “adest”;  at 386-387, his “huc coeamus” becomes her “coeamus”;  and at 391-392, his “… emoriar, quam sit tibi copia nostri” becomes her “sit tibi copia nostri”.  Yet, for some inexplicable reason, in the matter of line 384 Spivak claims that Ovid’s use of non-direct “quot dixit, verba recipit” in response to direct “quid … / me fugis” implies, utterly at variance with all the other responses that repeat the last few words exactly, not the contextually expected “me fugis” but rather an imperative, “fugi” [sic].  This seems to me the height of interpretive autocracy, and is apparently indulged for the sole purpose of falsely creating that “discrepancy between the second person interrogative (fugis) and the imperative (fugi [sic])” that Spivak seems to need at this point in her argument.  Where, I ask, where in the world does this notion of an imperative suddenly come from?  The normal expectation in this context is that Echo once more reported the words of Narcissus, in this instance “me fugis”, which fit perfectly.  Narcissus asks, “Why do you flee from me” (quid me fugis) and Echo (once more maddeningly and mockingly) answers “you flee from me” (me fugis).  There is no discrepancy here, whether in translation or not.  What —  Echo, mad for the boy, should suddenly say “flee from me!”?

When, further, we consider that “fugi” is not the imperative at all, the argument seems even more bizarre.  There is a first-semester-Latin type of confusion busily at work here, namely between fourth conjugation verbs and third conjugation so-called -i-o verbs.  The lemma of the latter type looks superficially like the lemma of the former, but although they share some morphological features they are in fact different.  Perhaps the mess here arises from the immediately preceding imperative “veni” (which does show the proper imperative ending for the fourth conjugation verb that it is) in line 382.  But the imperative, unhappily for Spivak’s project, of third-conjugation “fugio” is “fuge” with an “e” and not “fugi” with an “i”.  Thus, even if Echo had answered Narcissus’ “fugis” with an imperative (and it is still fully unclear how she could have or why she even should have) she would have had not only to drop the “s” in “fugis” but also to change the “i” to an “e” and respond “fuge” – highly unlikely in the acoustic constraints of both real-world echoes and the sanctions Juno placed on her speech.  This egregious error about an alleged imperative, perpetuated on pages 185(3), 186(3), and 199 note 27, is a seemingly small thing, but we must not be allowed to forget that it is the basis for a fair amount of fancy theorizing about the significance of Echo – theorizing based, it would now seem, on a fatal combination of autocratic indifference to traditional context and demonstrable morphological error.  Any conclusion as to the larger validity of such theorizing seems to me self-evident.

While we’re chewing on this vexed red herring of the imperative, an important corrective is required for some highly misleading comments made in note 27 on page 199.  It is true that “veni” at 382 is an imperative and likewise a “perfectly possible echo” that Ovid could have put in Echo’s mouth; but it is certainly not true that “with a little trick of vowel length” the form “vēni” with a long “e” (which means “I have come” – unlike “vĕni” with a short “e”, which is the imperative) is “perfectly acceptable within echo as a phenomenon.”  To advance such a claim is to fall into a naïve orthographic fallacy:  homographs = homophones (sometimes true but certainly not always).  To clarify:  the suggestion that Ovid could have made Echo say “veni” (with a long “e” – “I have come”) in response to Narcissus’ “veni” (with a short “e” – “Come!) is equivalent to saying that if in English Narcissus had said “wind” (the noun) Echo could have replied with the heterophonic homograph “wind” (the verb) – which is surely not “perfectly acceptable within echo as a phenomenon.” (Here I am reminded of a tired old joke about a certain Echo Canyon:  “You want a beer?”  “Want a beer.”  “You like Bud?”  “Like Bud.”   “What can you pay?”  “I’m broke!”)  Since the quantity of the vowel “e” is phonemic in these two Latin words, no way could perfect tense “veni” (long “e”) be confused with present imperative “veni” (short “e”).  Thus, given this indisputable fact of Latin morphology and phonemics, it is misguided to claim that here “Ovid gives Echo a plenitude of voicing” (the suggested translation of “vocat illa vocantem” [382] as “[she] voices the voicer” falls into what might be called a naïve derivational fallacy  —  one fervently believed in by not-the-best first-year-Latin students).  The conclusion obviously felt as emerging from this (in my view) confused and wrong-headed discussion in the first part of the note is one that seems — even if its foundations had been accurate and valid — totally adventitious in the context and, for me at least, in its own right opaque in the extreme: “The ethical-instantiation reader must choose between a gendered agency that can speak its desire within gendering, where the narrator reports her (internalized constraint as a version of) fulfilled choice, or a gendered aporia that goes beyond mere (historically contaminated) intention.  For our part, a greater responsibility beckons in the instantiation of the possibility that history is in all respects larger than personal goodwill.”

The discussion of the death of Narcissus (Spivak 184) gets itself tangled up in some snarled speculation that certainly fits the agenda of the chapter but is categorically unwarranted by the misunderstood Latin on which it is based.  Again, the invading hegemon mines the colonized territory and extracts heedlessly from it.

“The flower nods at the water here on earth to be the a-letheia (truth as unforgetting) of the limits of self-knowledge, as Narcissus still gazes upon the waters of Lethe – though unlike the Loeb translation, Ovid does not mention an image there:  in Stygia spectabat aqua (M, 158, line 505, translated in the Loeb edition as “he kept on gazing at his image in the Stygian pool”).”

Just for the record, Ovid does actually “mention an image” here, not with the word “imaginem” but with the accusative reflexive (“se”) in the preceding line, the omission of which from the citation “in Stygia spectabat unda” could be seen as either tendentious or a function of imperfect understanding of Latin syntax, but inexcusable in either case.  But that is perhaps just a minor point arising from the kind of systemic ignorance of Latin that characterizes so much of the discussion of Ovid in this chapter.  What is truly brazen is the manipulative violence done to the text (the meaning of “Stygia”) in order randomly to phantom-mine it for the particular meaning that needs to be extracted.  Where, I ask, is there a reference in the Latin text of Narcissus in the underworld (504-510) to a “flower nod[ding] at the water here on earth to be the a-letheia (truth as unforgetting) of the limits of self-knowledge?”  This unmotivated insertion of ‘aletheia’ is pure fantasy.  By way of imagined but thoroughly garbled explanation (I suppose), footnote 28 (199) informs the reader that she “will notice that I too have played a translator’s trick here, substituting the Greek Lethe for the Latin Styx. Latin does not have an exact equivalent of aletheia for truth (thereby hangs Heidegger).”   But the “trick” is on this particular translator.  Never mind that the Loeb translator did not play the “trick” imputed to him back on page 184;  never mind that the fact that “Latin does not have an exact equivalent of aletheia for truth” is painfully irrelevant to this entire discussion;  never mind the immaterial extraneousness of “(thereby hangs Heidegger)”.  First of all, “Styx” is no more Latin than the dark side of the moon is a good Roquefort.  As Ovid himself knew, it is Greek, and at “Metamorphoses” 10.313-315 he playfully calques the radical sense (‘hate’) of the Greek word in the sequence “… Stygio … / … odisse … / … odio …” [“Stygian … to hate … hate”], a passage which clearly imitates the earliest (but far from the last) Greek play on the meaning of this word (Homer “Iliad” 8.369-370: “… stugerou … / … Stugos … / … stugeei …” [“hateful … Hate … hates”]).

ἐξ Ἐρέβευς ἄξοντα κύνα στυγεροῦ Ἀΐδαο,
οὐκ ἂν ὑπεξέφυγε Στυγὸς ὕδατος αἰπὰ ῥέεθρα.
νῦν δ’ ἐμὲ μὲν στυγέει, Θέτιδος δ’ ἐξήνυσε βουλάς

The notion that you can just willfully substitute Lethe for Styx perhaps arises from a curious ignorance of the riverine geography of the underworld.  These are not equivalent rivers — Styx is but one of numerous river-daughters borne of Okeanos and Tethys (cf. Hesiod Theogony 775-806).  If anything, Ovid used “Stygia” here in allusion to the semantics of contempt (cf. my comments on “iste” above) and self-loathing that inheres in Narcissus since he gained an understanding of how “amor” hijacked his sanity (as happens to so many other lovers in this Ovidian typlogy).  But if Ovid did mean some other river when he in fact wrote “Stygia”, how can we be so privileged as to know that he meant Lethe?  How do we know he didn’t mean some other underworld river like, say, Acheron or Pyriphlegethon?  Would we then be reading the text as describing a “flower nod[ding] at the water here on earth to be the a-acheron (woe as un-woeing) of the limits of self-knowledge,” or perhaps a “flower nod[ding] at the water here on earth to be the a-pyriphlegethon (fire-burning as un-fireburning) of the limits of self-knowledge?”  Come to think of it, if Ovid meant Lethe, why didn’t he just use the noun “Lethe” or the adjective (like “Stygia”) “Lethaea”, as he does at “Metamorphoses” 7.152 [adjective] and 11.603 [noun] — and spare critics of later generations much hermeneutic agony?  No, this entire line of argument quickly implodes on its own linguistic and cultural deficit, and such conclusions as may in fact depend on it evanesce.

The assertion on page 194 that the words “sit tibi copia nostri” are the “last words Echo gives back to Narcissus” is, again, all too demonstrably wrong – even at 495-496 in the underworld, his “eheu” becomes her “eheu”.

In fact, the discussion(194-195) of the phrase “quam sit tibi copia nostri” (392) pins its consequent theorizing on yet a misunderstanding of the Latin text.  Despite the citation of the Loeb translation which gets “nostri” (functionally here a personal pronoun and not a possessive adjective!) right, the argument blithely ignores that translation and reconfigures “copia nostri” as possessive “our plenty, our plenitude” (194).  But the “nostri” of “copia nostri” is not possessive genitive;  it is objective genitive, and so cannot mean “our plenty” etc. – that would require in Latin either “copia nostrum” or, more likely, “copia nostra”  — but not the phrase “copia nostri” that we do have.  That phrase can only mean something like “free access to us (me),” “opportunity with us (me)” or (as the Loeb has it, with an extreme semantic spin but correct understanding of the syntax) “power over us” (personally I think “power” mistranslates the word in the context of this tale).  The military sense of “copia” as ‘forces’ is limited to the plural of the Latin noun – here it is of course singular – and certainly does not mean anything at all like the adventitiously expanded “the provisions that we [my note  again, erroneously construing “nostri” as possessive or even subjective genitive] have laid up for the future.”  The sense of the concluding sentence of the relevant paragraph on page 195 is in any event uncertain, given the lack of a closing parenthesis correlative with the opening parenthesis before “explicit-implicit.”

A further reason this discussion goes astray is that, not seriously understanding “the powerful tricks of Ovid’s text” (Spivak 195), it fails to take into account the typology and larger literary and cultural context of the tale.  Given that there is no inkling anywhere in the entire discussion of the Narcissus-Echo story of an awareness of the profoundly and powerfully Hellenized (even colonized, if you want the jargon) nature of Latin poetry, one is not surprised to find the kind of decontextualized ‘reading-in-a-vacuum’ here proposed.  The point of course is that like so many of these stories in Ovid, the Narcissus-Echo story is technically a mini-tragedy mapped on a Greek theodicy originating in Homer and perhaps most articulately developed in Aeschylean tragedy.  As I have formulated it elsewhere (“Unhappy ‘felix’ Niobe: Ovid ‘M’.6-284-5” Eranos 86 [1988].71-73) in connection with the Niobe narrative (“Metamorphoses” 6.146-312), the story of Narcissus and Echo is a “case of the common Greek mapping of personal ruin in which prosperity (in Greek terms, “olbos”) puffs up to overabundance (“koros”) and sickens into arrogance (“hubris”) and its inevitable sequelae of madness (“ate:”) and divine retribution (“nemesis”).”  (For the linguistic details of the Latin translations of the Greek, see note 2 of the cited paper)  Narcissus’ prosperity is his great beauty and desirability (345: iam tunc qui posset amari; 353: multi … multae cupiere) that becomes his personal excess and overabundance (466: inopem me copia fecit – NB “copia”);  he is arrogant (354: superbia), and he falls into a madness (350: furoris; 474: male sanus; 474: furori) brought on by nemesis (406: Rhamnusia).  Thus, when Narcissus bemoans his euporetic aporia (the aporia being de rigeur in ancient tragedy) in 466 (inopem me copia fecit), it is impossible not to ‘hear’ the reverberating “copia” of lines 391 and 392 (where, to underline the connection among these uses of “copia”, the word occupies the same metrical ‘sedes’ that it does in 466):  both Echo and Narcissus are being characterized in (?mock-)tragic terms.  As far as I can tell, then, given the Latin of that phrase (“sit tibi copia nostri”), it has nothing to do with “our plenty, our plenitude” or “provisions etc.,” and surely not with the idea that “Narcissus’ ambivalence towards death here … is turned into truth independent of intention … ” or with “a variation on the old game of playing female power within the male establishment.”  The Latin text and context have been cruelly violated by the critical hegemon.

On page 183 we read that, “It is another youth of indeterminate sex who brings Nemesis down upon Narcissus.”  If it even matters any longer, this statement is, once more, so obviously wrong, and so easily seen as such but for a truly remarkable obliviousness to the reality of the Latin text.  In the relevant passage (404-405) the action of calling “Nemesis down upon Narcissus” is attributed by Ovid to a certain “aliquis” (404), an indefinite pronoun “of indeterminate” grammatical gender – masculine or feminine.  But once it is syntactically coupled, as it must be, with the immediately following word, its modifying participle “despectus,” that gender indeterminacy vanishes:  “despectus” is unambiguously masculine.  So, it should be noted, is “amato” (unambiguously not feminine, and of the other two possiblities – masculine or neuter – masculine, I’ll venture!), the masculine referent (i.e., himself) the thwarted masculine “aliquis” no doubt has in mind!  So much for “another youth of indeterminate sex!”

This chapter at last comes to a pompous and portentous end on page 196.  When, in the closing, exquisite aperçus are inserted on not only “Ava Gerber’s stunning ‘body art’ [that] can be an example of an impossible imitation of Echo, attending to the failed narcissism of United States body culture” but also “those paleo-mammals that were once creatures of the earth”, whales that “echo-locate objects and other inhabitants in the sea world, which is not their home but merely their makeshift dwelling place,” I just want to take a long nap.  For although there is more that should and could be made to explain itself in these pages, I am weary of this chapter.  And you the reader must be even wearier of my own weariness. About all of this, let me make just one final point, more general in nature, and then at last move along.  I am the first to admit that I do not know much about most of the matters that this volume addresses (which is in fact why I am reading it — precisely in the hope of learning something about them), and therefore I take them on faith, relying on the wide expertise that the material acquiesces in having the learned world impute to it.  What happens to the tacit confidence I place in all of this high theorizing regarding all those many areas where I know next to nothing when I come across the same thing in the case of a subject like Ovid’s Metamorphoses that I do know in intimate detail and understand at a very deep level, having taught Latin graduate seminars in this subject and related areas of both Greek and Latin literature, and having published on them in academic journals — and find that here the theorizing is based on a textual ‘understanding’ bathed in a cascading flood of confusions and egregious errors of omission and commission, but is confidently presented to the reader as yet one more aspect of an astonishingly wide-ranging expertise?  It is a question that must, inevitably, suggest itself to me, as must its inescapable answer.

On to other matters!

A significant aspect of this work that subverts one’s efforts at understanding what is being stated and therefore merits consideration is its use of language.  At times I get the feeling that somehow normative (as vouchsafed by the OED) language simply cannot be trusted to unpack the sophisticated theories here broached, and thus recourse must be had to a kind of hyper-intellectualized lexical reaching.  It is not always a pretty thing.  The language is clotted with cranked up neologisms and ad hoc inventions that serve in no discernible fashion to clarify or animate the ideas and the argumentation but merely further to obtund and obfuscate.

Rather than use perfectly functional words that already exist, among the ploys are the resurrection of obsolete vocabulary (which does perhaps invest the new with the dress of the traditional), the invention of new words, and the exploitive colonization of a defenseless Greek and Latin lexicon. And quite common is the addition of the semantically vacuous suffix for the syllabic incrementing of words in order, apparently, to pump up in some kind of faux-iconic sense the importance of the concepts:  bigger words = bigger thoughts.

Here is a list of words (though some of these words appear frequently in the book, only one page reference is given for each) that — for what the OED is worth! — do not appear or are cited only as obsolete in my OED CD-ROM (2nd edition) [hereafter OED-CDR]:  antiphone [167], citationality [87], conscientized [186], contestatory [177], continuism [111], deconstructivism [100], deconstructivist [54], defeminate [51], destinerrance [185], disciplinarize [159], ecobiome [301], figurality [189], financialization [285], genitalist [138], globality [286], governmentality [152], graphematicity [79], irresponsibilizing [196], masculism [35], masculist [266], metaphoricity [46], metaphorization [113], micrologized [220], miraculate [27 (obsolete)], monstrative [193 (obsolete)], museumize [269], narcissian [183], narrateme [190], narrativizations [199], narrativize [25], ontic-ontological [157(subindividual-)], ontico-ontological [170], onto-phenomenological [111], paleonymic [79], paleonymy [144], perspectivize [114], physiologistic [60], postcoloniality [160], preontological [160], privatist [67], reconstellated [285], rhetoricity [159], semioclasty [302], semiotrophy [214], specularity [279], subalternist [188], symbolicity [193], symptomaticity [32], and syncategoreme [116].  For sure, language grows and changes, and is susceptible to lexical innovations of all sorts;  and I think some of these neologisms are quite clever and useful (e.g., defeminate, and museumize), but I don’t see the point of words like, say, conscientized , financialization, irresponsibilizing, or perspectivize.  And aside from syllabic length, what is the difference (not to mention exact meanings?) between ontic-ontological and ontico-ontological?  Just because a word formation is possible doesn’t mean it needs to be realized.  Well, just some thoughts I had.

And now to the ancillary matter of foreign languages.  There are obviously occasions when it is appropriate – because helping to elucidate – to cite foreign words, phrases, and languages.  When it is done for display its very ostentation obstructs the flow of argument.  (I do not include here such obvious typos of foreign words as incorrect Swedish ‘Lünd’ for correct ‘Lund’ [pages 8, 309];  Latin ‘materialum’ for ‘materialium’ [page 88], ‘manent’ for ‘manet’ [184];  German ‘Gegunzug’ for ‘Gegenzug’ [93], ‘Gebrauschswert’ for ‘Gebrauchswert’ [128], ‘transformierien’ for ‘transformieren’ [218]; etc.)

Thus we read from an interview the following otiose comment (26):  “What I am saying is that history is a storying, secondarily also by the arrangement and interpretation of ‘facts,’ and facts are facta, past participle of facio, things that are made – made from conventional standards of truth-establishing, so that you can get a hold of ‘what really happened.’”  To readers who do not know Latin, that fact as it were that facta is the past participle of facio is pointless erudition; to those who know some Latin, it is entirely supererogatory.  Cui bono, then? Besides, on a rigorous analysis, “facts” are in no way “facta”  — the modern English word is merely a common derivative from the Latin one but with a hugely displaced semantics.  Furthermore, this little etymological sidebar is rather ironic in view of the preceding, less than transparent etymologizing off “history” – which is only in a secondary or even tertiary sense “a storying”:  primarily (in ancient Greek, that is) “history” (historia) is merely ‘investigation’.  Incidentally, since its root (*wid-) produces a vast Indo-European lexicon in the semantic field of sensory and intellectual ‘seeing’, arguably “history” is just ‘knowing’.

Then there is this one [111]:  “Surplus-value is created when some value is produced for nothing.  Yet even in this continuist version value seems to escape the onto-phenomenological question: what is it (ti esti)?”  Whatever else may be going on here, what is the point of this parenthetical piece of Platonic pretension (repeated on page 232)?  Today few educated people know any Latin; even fewer know classical Greek;  and very few indeed of these few have read their Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysics in Greek.  So why ti esti?  Besides, given the general horror of hiatus (though it does occur) in Greek prose, a more appropriate generalization for this ontological interrogatory might well have been ti d’ estin (cf., say, ti pot’ estin at Plato Euthyphro 9c5).

The fourth chapter (“Revolutions That As Yet Have No Model – Derrida’s ‘Limited Inc.’”) gets into a discussion of Heidegger, and citations from his Sein und Zeit are from the translation by John McQuarrie and Edward Robinson, Being and Time.  At one point (92) the translation reads, “his having to have …”, accompanied by the bracketed German, “ohne dass sie selbst … haben.”  Now, if it was McQuarrie and Robinson who actually included the German in their own translation, then the following comment is unfair and to be ignored.  But if it was added (as the brackets suggest) for the benefit of the reader of the volume under discussion, then it is surely more confusing than anything else, and would in fact seem to question the translation.  How can “ohne dass sie selbst … haben” ever mean “without his having to have …”?  Where is the deontic marker (surely it is not “selbst”!) in the German?  Why does the plural (of indeterminate gender) in German become a (masculine) singular in the English?  Given that this particular essay and this particular passage in it are almost incoherently dense (in another context [107] the editors gamely suggest that “the experience of the Spivakian [sic] page often seems one of insurmountable difficulty, and its effect to exaggerate one’s sense of one’s own ignorance or dimness” – well, when all is said and done, I could probably come up with an explanation probably not intended by the editors for this “sense of one’s own ignorance or dimness”), whose purpose does it serve to introduce yet one more roadblock on this arduous journey to the higher enlightenment?  Again, for those who know no German, there can be no conceivable purpose for its inclusion; and for those who do know some German, the general confusion here necessarily engendered by this problematical translation can only be heightened.  At this point – even if my clearly limited philosophical intelligence had allowed me fully to comprehend what is going on – I would reasonably have been brought up short by the troubling lack of linguistic concinnity and been legitimately compelled to call into question the validity of the argument.  Here — dare I suggest it in such a context? — is a case where less knowledge might have translated into more understanding, or at least diminished confusion.

I must be missing a point on page 217, where I read that “haben interpretiert” is the “present participle – a completed action – of ‘interpretieren’.”  Since when is “haben interpretiert” a present participle?  News to me!

In chapter six we read [147] the following passage cited from Foucault:  “La condition de possibilité du pouvoir, en tout cas le point de vue qui permet de rendre intelligible son exercise …”.  The translation:  “The condition of possibility of power, at least of the point of view that allows its exercise to be made intelligible …”.  Where did the “of” after “at least” materialize from?  It’s not in the French, and inserting it into the English is endlessly confusing.  Is “of the point of view” parallel to “of possibility” or to “of power” (this seems to be the way it is taken in the text, to judge from the immediately preceding phrasing, “The condition of possibility of power is the condition of possibility of a viewpoint that renders intelligible its exercise.”  Given the French, however, that seems a rather arbitrary interpretation.) or to neither – in short, what is its head noun?  In French it is of course its own head noun, so to speak, parallel to “La condition”, but in the English it just hangs there, an unhappy and complicating dependent.  My only solution here is to assume that this “of” was inadvertently provided in the English rather than that a “de” was lost in the French (which would of course have changed “le point” to “du point”).  I am open to suggestions.

Consider some individual words.  In Chapter 6 the word ‘clinamen’ (the last citation for which my OED-CDR lists as coming from 1827) gains prominence (150 153 155[2] 157).  It is clearly an obsolete word, but it has a long history, ineluctably evoking the exposition of Epicurean atomic theory by Lucretius (1st century BC).  Why use such a recondite (even in Latin!) word here, when the perfectly serviceable English equivalent (‘swerve’) is in fact used elsewhere in this chapter (154 157)?  Perhaps, as is possibly being suggested by note 21 (168), it all has something to do with Heidegger’s apparent colonization of the Latin word (itself stolen by the Romans from Greek), as explicated by Derrida and others, and then perhaps further appropriated in the chapter under consideration.  I just don’t know with any certainty.

The author is fond of certain Greek words, many of which are not (unlike, for example, ‘telos’ [134.5] or, to a lesser extent, ‘praxis’ [48.10 158], and Foucault’s troping of ‘episteme’ [158(2) 160 162 164(2) 165 167]) exactly common coin in modern English:  ‘metalepsis’ [213], ‘parataxis’ [126], ‘parergon’ [145], and ‘theoria’ [48.10]

Take two other Greek words not lemmatized in the OED-CDR, ‘arche’ [the ‘arche’ that is listed is not a derivative of the Greek word] (134.5) and ‘techne’ (48.10[2] 158 173).  Their presentation throughout the text puzzles me.  The former is consistently written with an acute on the final syllable, and the latter, with a grave on that syllable – ‘arché’ and ‘technè’ respectively.  These diacriticals obviously cannot be in use here to represent the original Greek accents (the first word being accentually an oxytone, the latter a paroxytone) but must be intended to represent the long e of the Greek (that is, the letter eta rather than epsilon) of each word.  While I applaud such punctiliousness in transliterating, it is totally unclear to me why the different diacriticals are used – or omitted, as in the citation on page 187 (line 13).  And why is the diacritical ‘macron’ completely lacking on episteme (a paroxytone of the identical morphological paradigm as techne), which, further, is not italicized the way the other two words are?  Perhaps this exotic ‘other’, plundered by a catachrestically platonizing Foucault from an oppressed classical Greek lexicon, has by now been so thoroughly assimilated, regularized and disciplinarized by the hegemonic discourse of the academy that its deracinated status is, alas, insensitively no longer even recognized as such.

A couple of minor points.  At note 10 (lines 8-9) on page 48 I think more specificity (including text used) would be helpful for the Aristotle references:  just where in all those pages are the Greek terms to be found?  On page 132 line 7 I would use ‘synecdochic’ for ‘metonymic’.  On page 179 line 40 I would prefer ‘foundation’ and eschew the … ahem … suggestive word ‘fundament’, whose primary sense of ‘foundation’, while active in modern German ‘(das) Fundament’, is obsolete in modern English.  I wonder if on page 274 “Suomis” should be “Sami”  — the latter being the ‘correct’ term for the Lapps, Suomi being the Finnish for Finland.  No fault of the author who was commenting in 1993, but the “remarkable testimonials” (292) of the postcolonial icon Rigoberta Menchú now seem “remarkable” in quite a special way after David Stoll’s exposing of the fraudulent “Rigoberta Menchú and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans.” The “knowing” and, I suppose, “ironic” quotation marks cluttering every argument quickly grow as precious as they are tiresome.

Enough is enough!

I have picked at this material long enough, perhaps even unfairly.  And I am still not entirely convinced that it is not my own intellectual shortcomings that have made so many sections of this book so problematical for me.  But this was my conversation with myself about some representative works of a world-class critic whose renown has covered the earth;  I simply had to talk to someone about this … stuff … , and who more willing to listen than myself?

Perhaps what is so often at work in this book is a Derrida-like jouissance, a demolishing validation of the alleged fact that (54) “no rigorous definition of anything is possible,” and therefore we are not meant to make sense of indefinable words strung together in indefinable essays.  And for that we might well all be the richer.  I have certainly had to work unbelievably hard to read this book, and though I find much of it incoherent or at best tortuously difficult to understand, and disagree ferociously with much of what I think I do understand, the author’s intrepid itinerary has, in truth, opened up for me the possibility of some new ways of thinking about literature and the phenomenological world.

This is no small thing, and for that at least I give high thanks and much kudos.


So much for the tens of millions who perished in the course of these particular globalization ‘misadventures’. Stéphane Courtois (with Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panné, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartošek, and Jean-Louis Margolin ) counts between 85 and 100 million deaths directly attributable to communism worldwide, extending over a period of 80 years: The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression [Le livre noir du communisme translated by Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer, Harvard University Press 1999, 858 pp.]

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