I am immensely pleased and greatly honored by the attention paid in this forum to my work and to work about my work by Éamonn Dunne, Peggy Kamuf, and Justin Halverson. All three are right on the mark in what they say. I have practically nothing to query or quarrel with in that saying. I especially appreciate what Dunne has to say about the way The Medium Is the Maker "is certainly Miller's funniest work." I take that as high praise. Literary criticism, like literature itself, should not always be solemn. My procedures in that book are meant to make comedy a tool of insight and interpretation. Dunne and Halverson give scrupulously generous, comprehensive, and accurate [End Page 358] accounts of my three most recent books, not counting a collaborative one (Dunne) and of First Sail: J. Hillis Miller, the film about me and my work made by Dragan Kujundžić (Halverson).1 Kamuf brilliantly identifies what is problematic in Dunne's desire in his book on my work to do justice to that work and problematic also in my attempts to do justice to the work of others. Can one ever render justice or know for sure that one has done so?
Three brief comments:
1. Halverson correctly quotes me as saying in the film that an ancestor on my mother's side, Samuel Hopkins of Rhode Island, signed the Declaration of Independence. That was an error on my part. His name was Stephen Hopkins. Calling him Samuel was an egregious error, as a glance at facsimiles of the Declaration online will demonstrate, with Stephen Hopkins's somewhat shaky signature in the middle of the right-hand column of signatures. He had severe palsy and had to hold his right hand with his left hand when he signed. He said, "my hand trembles, but my heart does not." You should never get your historical facts wrong, particularly about your own ancestors. Nevertheless, there is my mistake, immortalized on all the DVDs of First Sail.
2. A small demurrer: Halverson, perhaps plausibly, asserts of the fifth "chapter" of First Sail (that chapter is about my anxieties concerning the BP oil spill, the 2008 financial collapse, and lies promulgated by the media) that "its relevance to the film as a whole seems questionable," whereas he accepts as relevant the final chapter of the film, which is on my fear of climate change. I would claim, on the contrary, that all my recent work and all my evaluation of past work are, and should be, performed in the context of these events. I keep asking myself, "Why read, teach, and write about literature now, when things globally are, as Séan O'Casey's Captain Boyle in Juno and the Paycock puts it, 'in a terrible state of chassis,' and practically nothing is being done about it?" We, collectively, have big problems. That, I claim, ought to be the context for literary studies generally these days.
3. A final addendum, which I hope I may be permitted here. One grows by changing. Just since these books and the film were published (if that is what you do with a film), my work has taken yet another turn and has begun to be concerned with what it might mean to do "rhetorical readings" of works in the new media—video games, or television shows, or magazine ads, or TV news broadcasts, with their interpolated ads. Here is a first modest attempt at doing that, cited, with changes, from [End Page 359] a lecture given in the fall of 2012 at a Modern Studies Association conference in Las Vegas, that locus of spectacle triumphant:
What might be called a spontaneous internal cinema accompanies, for most people, the reading of a verbal text. Probably they are different for each reader and different for each reading by the same reader. But reading pictures also happens for those adept in purely visual sign systems, what Paul de Man calls "the necessity of a non-perceptual, linguistic moment in painting and music," "learn[ing] to read pictures."2 What de Man meant by reading pictures, alert readers of...