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Qui Parle, Volume 15, Number 2, December 2005

Vol. 15 | No. 2 | December 2005


On The Postcolony: A Brief Response to Critics
Achille Mbembe

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

This is hardly the place to provide detailed responses to all the critiques –– for the most part valid –– to which On the Postcolony has been subjected. I will, however, and in order to comment on them in turn, pick up on two objections of fundamental concern for my critics. The first has to do with my argument about the sensory life of power in the postcolony. The second is about the conditions under which an interpretation of the sexual politics of the postcolony might be possible. But before doing so, I will attempt to situate the book within the intellectual context of its production –– in a way of making precise its position within the archive of the modern discourse on Africa. Along the way, I will provide the reader with supplementary reflections that might better clarify and, I hope, extend the problematic at the heart of the initial project.


Although On the Postcolony had been originally conceived, written, and published in French, it is in the Anglo-Saxon world that it aroused the liveliest interest as well as the most creative criticism. The reasons for this disjunction are too well known and therefore need not be dwelt on here...

Read now at Duke University Press

The Skepticism and Animal Faith of Wallace Stevens
Richard Sawaya

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Introduction: Preliminary Minutiae

“It is necessary to any originality to have the courage to be an amateur.”  –– Wallace Stevens

They were both consummate amateurs. Santayana, as soon as he was materially able, decamped with pleasure from the confines of Harvard, and Stevens had the foresight not to take an undergraduate degree there. Santayana was a philosopher whose bent was poetic; Stevens, a poet whose subject was philosophical:

“The point is that poetry is to a large extent an art of perception and that the problems of perception as they are developed in philosophy resemble similar problems in poetry. It may be said that to the extent that the analysis of perception in philosophy leads to ideas that are poetic, the problems are identical.” (Stevens)

Because Santayana's analysis of perception –– the deep subject of all "romantic" poetry –– implied a program for poetry, a reading of Stevens' poetry profits from a consideration of Santayana's epistemology. Put another way, the philosophical tradition that fostered the philosopher's theories, and the "romantic" tradition –– articulated in England by Wordsworth, and in America by Emerson ––constitute the situation in which Stevens found himself to be the last romantic.

Read now at Duke University Press

   Dossier on Disaster

Citizens of Disaster
Ariella Azoulay

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Common definitions of the term "citizen" can be divided into three main types. The first describes the citizen's status vis-à-vis the state: "A citizen is a resident of permanent status in the state, with full legal rights and obligations"; the second replaces the state with the body politic: "Citizenship is membership in a political community (originally the polis, but now the nation-state), and it carries with it rights of political participation. A citizen is someone who is a member of such a community"; and the third refers to the relationship between the citizen and the sovereign power that governs the state: "a person owing allegiance to and entitled to the protection of a sovereign state."

These three definitions implicitly distinguish the citizen from his other, the non-citizen, who, in turn, plays a crucial role in the conditions for exercising citizenship. The first definition is primarily concerned with the everyday, material experience of citizenship, while the second is linked to more abstract dimensions, describing moments in the life of the citizen that occur once every few years, such as exercising the right to vote. In many cases, what legally distinguishes the citizen (who is described as having full rights and obligations) from the non-citizen (to whom only a limited number of rights and obligations apply) is exactly what lies at the heart of the second definition: political participation.

Read now at Duke University Press

"Curiosity! Wonder!! Horror!!! Misery!!!!" The Campanha de Canudos, or The Photography of History
Natalia Brizuela

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

As Benjamin suggests in "Central Park," the photograph, like the souvenir, is the corpse of an experience. A photograph therefore speaks ... as the trace of what passes into history. ... At once dead and alive, it opens the possibility of our being in time. . . . [The event of photography] tells us that the truth of history is to this day nothing but photography. Nevertheless, the photograph –– as what is never itself and therefore always passing into history –– asks us to think the remains of what cannot come under a present. How can an event that appears only in its disappearance leave something behind that opens history? How can the photographed guard a trace of itself and inaugurate history? ... For Benjamin, history happens when something becomes present in passing away, when something lives in its death. "Living means leaving traces."

The Spectacle of Sovereignty, or the Spectacles of Modernity

In February 1898, more than a year after the beginning of the Campanha de Canudos, perhaps the most devastating civil war in Brazilian history, one of the main newspapers of Rio de Janeiro published in its last pages an advertisement that read: "Canudos War. Curiosity! Wonder!! Horror!!! Misery!!!! All represented live and in natural size through Electrical Projection. Today.” Twenty five photographs taken at the site of the war –– the city of Canudos in the deserted northern region of Brazil known as the sertão –– would be displayed for the first time, shown in the form of an exhibition of sorts, a public spectacle of the electrical projection.

Read now at Duke University Press

On Revolutions in the Nuclear Age: The Eighteenth Century and the Postwar Global Imagination
David Bates

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

“Contemporaries are in a peculiarly difficult position to assess the nature of revolutions through which they are living. All previous experience will tempt them to integrate the new into what has come to seem familiar. They will have difficulty understanding that what is most taken for granted may be most misleading because a new order of experience requires new ways of thinking about it. A revolution cannot be mastered until it develops the mode of thinking appropriate to it.”

So wrote Henry Kissinger, in his important 1957 book on Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. The revolution he was referring to was not, of course, a progressive political revolution in the eighteenth-century sense, but rather a technological and military transformation that threatened to overwhelm traditional political practice altogether ––domestically and globally. This nuclear revolution had radically altered the conditions of war in what was now a global space of conflict.

Read now at Duke University Press

A Disaster by Any Other Name
Mark Pedretti

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

“The horror –– the honor –– of the name, which always threatens to become a title. In vain the movement of anonymity remonstrates with this supernumerary appellation –– this fact of being identified, unified, fixed, arrested in the present. The commentator says (be it to criticize or to praise): this is what you are, what you think; and thus the thought of writing –– the ever dissuaded thought which disaster awaits –– is made explicit in the name; it receives a title and is ennobled thereby; indeed, it is as if saved  –– and yet, given up. It is surrendered to praise or to criticism (these amount to the same): it is, in other words, promised to a life surpassing death, survival. Boneyard of names, heads never empty.”
––Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster

Maurice Blanchot both describes and performs an essential feature of the rhetoric of disaster: its refusal to submit to naming. Or rather, the disaster is always named and unnamed, hiding behind the designations given to it and simultaneously exceeding their grasp. Writing represents the impossible inside of the disaster, attempting to domesticate that which is foreign to every inscription.

Read now at Duke University Press

Cover: Miki Kratsman. More info. See also the article by Ariella Azoulay in this issue.

Volume 15.2 is available at Duke University Press and JSTOR. Qui Parle is edited by an independent group of graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley and published by Duke University Press.