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Vol. 30 | No. 2 | December 2021


RE: [No Subject]––On Nonbinary Gender
Marquis Bey

This essay attempts to imagine what nonbinary gender might be through an autotheoretical and imaginative email exchange between the author, as “X,” and the author’s gender as nonbinary. Indeed, theorized conversationally throughout are the difficulties and potentialities of nonbinary gender, or nonbinariness as a refusal of gender.

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Skulls, Tree Bark, Fossils: Memory and Materiality in Georges Didi-Huberman’s Transvaluation of Surface
Magdalena Zolkos

Studies of material objects in the field of memory studies have followed diverse epistemological and disciplinary trajectories, but their shared characteristic has been the questioning of philosophical assumptions concerning human relations with inanimate things and lower-level organic objects, such as plants, within the Aristotelian hierarchy of beings. Rather than accept at face value their categorizations as passive or deficient in comparison to the human subject, critical scholarship has reformulated the place and role of nonhuman entities in culture. This essay examines the nexus of materiality and memory in the work of the French philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman, with the focus on the questions of mnemonic affordance of things and plants. The essay proposes that Didi-Huberman’s project can be approached from the perspective of “undoing” the key binaries of Western historiography of art and material culture: surface/depth, exteriority/interiority, visibility/invisibility, and malleability/rigidity. Focusing on imaginal representations of memory objects in Didi-Huberman’s two essays Bark and Being a Skull, the essay situates these texts within the context of his philosophical reading of Aby Warburg’s iconology, and argues that Didi-Huberman’s undoing of the binaries that have traditionally structured thinking about materiality and memory could be productively approached as a philosophical project of transvaluating surface.

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Index and Image: Benjamin, Héring, Heidegger, and the Phenomenology of History

Ronald Mendoza-de Jesús

Although Walter Benjamin anticipated a confrontation with Martin Heidegger regarding the theory of historical knowledge, this confrontation was never fully elaborated. This essay contributes to filling out this lacuna by arguing that Benjamin’s concept of the dialectical image was conceived as a phenomenological corrective to Heidegger’s historicity. To clarify the phenomenological sources of Benjamin’s conception of the image, it reads the traces of Benjamin’s engagement with the early phenomenologist Jean Héring in the first sentences of entry “N3,1” in Das Passagen-Werk, where Benjamin presents his notion of the image in explicit opposition to Heidegger. The essay argues that Benjamin relied on Héring’s notion of phenomenological essences as indexically individuated to conceptualize the historical index of the image and to provide a better (i.e., more concrete) way of “saving history for phenomenology” than Heidegger’s historicity. By tracking Benjamin’s debts and departures from Héring, this essay prepares the ground for a reconstruction of Benjamin’s confrontation with Heidegger and argues for the relevance of Benjamin’s conception of history for contemporary critiques of historicism.

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“Les Hypothèses Trop Hasardées”: Synecdoche and Speculative Method at the End
of the Rougon-Macquart

Justin Raden

This essay argues that the difficulties Émile Zola faced in closing the Rougon-Macquart novel cycle reveal a political imaginary whose notion of a clean line of progress depends on a technical supplement it disavows. At critical points Zola’s method exposes the disavowal of this technical supplement that functions as the prosthetic by which man overcomes a hereditary deficiency, his original psychosis in Zola’s account, and is also the means by which he allegorizes history as progress. But this supplement must also disappear from view, or operate as a vanishing mediator. Because, for Zola, the immediate political problem of engendering the right kind of political subjects for the Third Empire must be integrated into a larger evolutionary history, the rational overcoming of the original psychosis takes the form of a necessary and indeed automatic process. What is at stake here is not the inhumanism of generalizing the “Anthropos,” which has come under recent scrutiny, but the inhumanism integral to any humanism that imagines itself as teleologically or historically oriented—the inhumanism in humanism that subtends any imaginary of evolution or progress, because such a humanism must have recourse to technical prosthesis.

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From Exile to “Retro-Utopia”: A Yugoslav Writer’s Return
Djordje Popović

The act of writing ensures that exile is never permanent in the mind of the writer even if it is an abiding feature of his or her reality. Dubravka Ugrešić explores this paradox in much of her work, suggesting that migrant writers experience “double exile”—first on account of displacement and then because they are forced to reflect on the condition of being displaced, in effect, staging their alienation in the act of commenting on it. This dialectic of permanence and impermanence alone hints at a more developed relationship between home and exile than is usually allowed in the ontologically inflected interpretations of Ugrešić’s work. Instead of valorizing exile as a desirable, paradigmatically human condition, this article shows Ugrešić breaking with exilic literary and theoretical conventions by advancing the possibility of a return to what she calls “retro-utopia”—a place glimpsed in an unfulfilled past and a home to which a community based on shared positions, not identity, can return. The argument is based on an exegetical approach to an ur-document in transnational post-Yugoslav literature, Ugrešić’s 1997 novel The Museum of Unconditional Surrender, as well as on a key distinction in Edward Said’s secular criticism between filiative and affiliative social bonds.

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The United States at the Center of the Action
Jane Komori

A review of Mark W. Driscoll, The Whites Are Enemies of Heaven: Climate Caucasianism and Asian Ecological Protection (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020).

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Better Problems: Neoliberalism, Strategic Achronicity, and the Experimental Games To-Be-Made
Doug Stark

A review of Patrick Jagoda, Experimental Games: Critique, Play, and Design in the Age of Gamification (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020).

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Why Medieval Allegory?
Bernardo Sarmiento Hinojosa

A review of Katharine Breen, Machines of the Mind: Personification in Medieval Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021) and Nicolette Zeeman, The Arts of Disruption: Allegory and “Piers Plowman” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020).

Read now at Duke University Press

Cover: Laura Frantz, Shandaken 10 a.m. (2013) More info

Volume 30.2 is available at Duke University Press and Project Muse. Qui Parle is edited by an independent group of graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley and published by Duke University Press.