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Qui Parle, Volume 7, Number 2, Spring/Summer 1994

Vol. 7 | No. 2 | Spring/Summer 1994


“Une dentelle s’abolit”: The Invisibilities of Vermilion in Vermeer's The Lacemaker
Kathryn A. Tuma

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

If I were to offer you the most rudimentary description of the little painting by Jan Vermeer called The Lacemaker, a description which observed as strictly as possible the referential limits sanctioned by the title, I might say this: the painting depicts the figure of a young woman, a lacemaker, bent over the task of making lace and surrounded by the equipment necessary to her craft. Such an unassuming account appears accurate enough; its logic proceeds neatly and directly from the referential lead Vermeer provides in the painting's title. Yet in this case, even after what seems to be an untroubled verbal synopsis of what the picture portrays, the language of description has already led us astray.

The difficulty is this: even such a seemingly unassailable linguistic representation of this painting's depicted subject matter has turned a blind eye to the difficulties produced by the matter of color. When the vermilion splash erupts at the front of our field of vision and then into this neat and summary overview, a number of problems rise to the surface along with it. For all the ostensible fidelity of this subtle and delicate rendering of the simple subject of a lacemaker at work, there is no reason to believe—at least no reason with an eye peeled to pragmatism—that a woman of that profession, one demanding arduous scrutiny and rigorous visual precision, would ever imagine making use of such a brilliant vermilion thread as that which streams casually from her workbox.

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The Missing Keyword: Reading Olender's Renan
Jonathan Boyarin

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

Flattered into hazardous terrain by a generous invitation from colleagues, I agreed to speak on the subject of "Semitism" at the 1992 convention of the American Academy of Religion/Society for Biblical Literature in San Francisco. The terrain was doubly hazardous: I had never been to a convention of this particular learned society before; and moreover I am not a Semitic philologist nor yet a historian/genealogist of that field, but an ethnographer and a critic of anthropological discourse on Jews. Therefore I began, as I will in this printed version, by insisting that the purview of this paper remains on one side of a distinction—how solid I dare not say—between, on the one hand, Semitism (or rather the more common anti-Semitism which we hear behind it), and on the other hand Semitics. Clearly the historical-ideological phenomenon of discourse about a presumed Semitic race, which was quite popular in the nineteenth century and had a disastrous political career in the first half of the twentieth, is linked to the existence of a scholarly discipline called Semitics. A serious study of Semitism might have an effect similar to that of Edward Said's study of Orientalism, throwing into question the work of Semiticists, or at least provoking acrimonious controversy. Whether it is possible to analyze the "Semites" as a particular fantasy of the nineteenth-century or whether it answers today an actual conviction that there remains such a legitimate field of study, is an open question. On that score I will (uncharacteristically) maintain the scholarly restraint of a non-specialist.

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“Today the Mind is Not Part of the Weather”: Cognitive and Rhetorical Perspectives on the Construction of Poetic Metaphor
John Dolan

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

In the five years since it appeared, the "cognitive" approach to poetic metaphor outlined in George Lakoff and Mark Turner's More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor has been accepted with some enthusiasm by American literary critics of the stature of Hugh Kenner (whose praises are actually included on the back cover of the book). Lakoff and Turner's model of poetic metaphor in this work is the extension of Lakoff's "cognitive" approach to metaphor in ordinary language, as presented in his earlier works, Metaphors We Live By and Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. I will argue here that the "cognitive" approach to poetic metaphor outlined in More Than Cool Reason is demonstrably incapable of handling the complexities of metaphor, using a counter-reading of the poem Lakoff and Turner have chosen themselves, William Carlos Williams' "To A Solitary Disciple." My intention is not simply to disagree with Lakoff and Turner in their approach to poetry, but to suggest something about the inadequacy of the cognitive approach which they share with many other critics, some of whom, like Donald Davidson, would actually deny that they share the cognitive view of metaphor at all. 

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Averroes’ Search Today: Beit al-Hikmah and Translation in Morocco
Mustapha Kamal

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

“History records few acts more beautiful and more pathetic than this Arabic physician's consecration to the thoughts of a man from whom he was separated by fourteen centuries. To the intrinsic difficulties we should add the fact that Averroes, who had no knowledge of Syriac or Greek, was working on the translation of a translation. On the previous evening he had been nonplussed by two equivocal words at the beginning of the Poetics: the words tragedy and comedy.”

With these words, Jorge Luis Borges describes how the pathos of translation came to affect Averroes. After lengthy cogitations and deep ruminations over the two difficult terms, Averroes entered his library again:

“With a firm and careful calligraphy he added the following lines to the manuscript: Aristu [Aristotle] calls panegyrics by the name of tragedy, and satires and anathemas he calls comedies. The Koran abounds in remarkable tragedies and comedies, and so do the Mohallacas of the sanctuary.” 

Faced with a foreign language, as well as with the obligation to carry on his commentary of the medieval Arabs' favorite philosopher, Averroes had the double duty of translating for and explaining to his contemporaries the meaning of "tragedy" and "comedy."

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Facing Death: Modernity, Morality, Postcards
Jerry Herron

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

I have received only one incomparable gift in my life: the result of death twice over. My mother delivered the gift, though she was not—strictly speaking—its author. She attended an estate sale, of a sort common enough in the small Texas town where I grew up. An elderly woman had died, and her belongings were being disposed of—all of them, that is, not carted off by surviving family members, one of whom probably organized the event that took place on a Saturday morning, when I was seven years old. My mother returned home with two things she'd bought specially for me, one a more obvious choice than the other. First was a mounted bird—a roadrunner—that I took an immediate delight in, and kept with me for years until my cat chewed out its tail and most of the stuffing during a long car trip home the summer I graduated from college: The second purchase seemed less immediately relevant to the needs of a little boy, although it proved the more remarkable by far.

Perhaps because the price was only a dollar, or maybe because she was interested in it herself but didn't want to own up to the implied voyeurism of possession, my mother also bought "for me," as she said, an album of postcards that the dead woman had collected, some forty years earlier, between 1909 and 1920.

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    Book Reviews

On Janet Malcolm‘s The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
Marja Mogk

A review of Malcolm, Janet. The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. (New York: Knopf, 1994).

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On Teresa De Lauretis’s The Practice of Love: Lesbian Subjectivity and Perverse Desire
Elizabeth M. Dillon

A review of De Lauretis, Teresa. The Practice of Love: Lesbian Subjectivity and Perverse Desire. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994).

Read now at JSTOR

Cover: Anonymous daguerrotypes courtesy of The Library of the Department of the History of Art of the University of California, Berkeley

Volume 7.2 is available at JSTOR. Qui Parle is edited by an independent group of graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley and published by Duke University Press.