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In the Place of Language

Literature and the Architecture of the Referent

Claudia Brodsky

Publication Year: 2009

The placein the title of Claudia Brodsky's remarkable new book is the intersection of language with building, the marking, for future reference, of material constructions in the world. The referentBrodsky describes is not something first found in nature and then named but a thing whose own origin joins language with materiality, a thing marked as it is made to begin with. In the Place of Language: Literature and the Architecture of the Referent develops a theory of the referentthat is thus also a theory of the possibility of historical knowledge, one that undermines the conventional opposition of language to the real by theories of nominalism and materialism alike, no less than it confronts the mystical conflation of language with matter, whether under the aegis of the infinite reproducibility of the image or the identification of language with Being.Challenging these equally naive views of language - as essentially immaterial or the only essential matter - Brodsky investigates the interaction of language with the material that literature represents. For literature, Brodsky argues, seeks no refuge from its own inherently iterable, discursive medium in dreams of a technologically-induced freedom from history or an ontological history of language-being. Instead it tells the complex story of historical referents constructed and forgotten, things built into the earth upon which history takes placeand of which, in the course of history, all visible trace is temporarily effaced. Literature represents the making of history, the building and burial of the referent, the present world of its oblivion and the future of its unearthing, and it can do this because, unlike the historical referent, it literally takes no place, is not tied to any building or performance in space. For the same reason literature can reveal the historical nature of the making of meaning, demonstrating that the shaping and experience of the real, the marking of matter that constitutes historical referents, also defers knowledge of the real to a later date. Through close readings of central texts by Goethe, Plato, Kant, Heidegger, and Benjamin, redefined by the interrelationship of building and language they represent, In the Place of Language analyzes what remains of actions that attempt to take the place of language: the enduring, if intermittently obscured bases, of theoretical reflection itself.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Contents

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pp. viii-

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-

Rather than reflecting a conclusion long foregone, the train of thought informing this book and the trilogy of works to which it belongs owes its development in no small measure to its interruption by untoward events. Even more than in writing...

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Preface: Marked Change: A Brief Account

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pp. xi-xvi

No one who reads it will be more surprised than I that this book, which began as a study of what building is doing in pivotal works by Goethe, turned, step by step, into a theory of the referent. A skeletal chronology...

Introduction: Signs of Place

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pp. 1-26

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1. Referent and Annihilation: ‘‘X’’ Marks the Spot

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pp. 3-8

There i s a moment in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah that stands, strangely, alone. Shoah, a cinematic document without equal, by reason of the unthinkable acts and experiences it records, intersperses filmed verbal accounts of events participated...

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2. Theory of Appropriation: Rousseau, Schmitt, and Kant

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pp. 9-16

Complementary to Lanzmann’s need to know where the artificial boundary dividing the life of life from the life of death once lay—a boundary which, necessitated, installed and enforced by a plan to rewrite and erase human history...

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3. ‘‘Sovereignty’’ over Language: Of Lice and Men

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pp. 17-23

In the discursive terms borrowed from Lanzmann’s demonstration of the arbitrary and absolutely decisive nature of the constitution of the referent, ‘‘here’’—in the Introduction to an analysis of its complex literary representation

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4. Goethe after Lanzmann: Literature Represents ‘‘X’’

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pp. 24-26

Lanzmann’s ‘‘ ‘inside’ ’’ and ‘‘ ‘outside the camp’ ’’ refer to non-extant places that separated the living from the dead, and, as much as the eradication of architecture entails the eradication of the referent— not its necessary exclusion...

Part 1: Goethe’s Timelessness

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pp. 27-62

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1. Faust’s Building: Theory as Practice

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pp. 29-44

With the exception of the remarkable discussion of Faust by Marshall Berman, whose classic, still searing dialectical analysis of modernity as both constitutive and destructive of history, concluding with Robert Moses’ devastation of the Bronx...

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2. Faust’s and Heidegger’s Technology: Building as Poiesis

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pp. 45-53

The impersonality of Faust’s final goal is most adequately described not by Mephisto, whose representation of Faust’s discontent extends only to the latter’s sensuous desires (‘‘No pleasure sates him, no happiness is...

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3. In the Place of Language

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pp. 54-59

For, even in succeeding, such ‘‘new’’ management cannot break even. Once unmoored and moved about, power inevitably gets ‘‘out of hand’’ in the figurative as well as literal sense, transgressing the limit of its separation from earth...

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4. ‘‘Time Refound’’

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pp. 60-62

The recovery of time in the loss of life may seem, from the point of view of individual experience, an oxymoron. From the point of view of literary representation—or rather, from within the long view literature labors...

Part II: Built Time

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pp. 63-131

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1. Building, Story, and Image

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pp. 65-74

The experience of Wahlverwandtschaften is the eradication of time—of ‘‘something’’ that is, in itself, nothing—and the activity that brings about the occasion for this obliteration is, ironically, the making of something...

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2. Benjamin’s and Goethe’s Passagen: Ottilie under Glass

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pp. 75-92

The story of Wahlverwandtschaften entails, as story, the aesthetic objectification of those relations, the representation of the figural as image. Just as story and imaging take place within the context of architectural activity...

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3. Nature in Pieces

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pp. 93-101

The novel’ s opening architectural activities ultimately end by housing and displaying the appearance of beauty, along with its most ardent viewer, in a visitors’ arcade. In that it ‘‘contains’’ the central experience narrated...

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4. ‘‘Superfluous Stones’’

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pp. 102-113

If the Hauptmann’s equation of nature with ‘‘superfluous stones’’ in the opening of Part One of the novel identifies the world of the novel as building material, from the ground up, the graveyard discussion that opens...

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5. ‘‘Stones for Thought’’

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pp. 114-122

Such an experience of time requires the specification of location: for a grave to be understood as a grave, rather than mere ground, it must be marked; and for a graveyard to be recognized as such its own limits must...

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6. Kant’s and Goethe’s Schatzkammer: Buried Time

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pp. 123-131

The ‘ ‘place’ ’ of the Grundstein/Denkstein unites space with time precisely by sealing that union off from present acts of perception. Space is everywhere perceivable, and its absence from perception, as Kant succinctly concluded...

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Afterword: Gravity: Metaphysics of the Referent

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pp. 133-143

"Grave" is an especially polysemous, formally versatile word in English, whose history of multiple meanings and grammatical functions betrays an unusually dense nexus or set of concepts when compared with the lexical differentiation...

Appendix: Continuation of Notes

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pp. 145-161

Bibliography

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pp. 163-171


E-ISBN-13: 9780823246748
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823230006
Print-ISBN-10: 0823230007

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2009

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Subject Headings

  • Literature -- Philosophy.
  • Reference (Philosophy).
  • Reference (Linguistics).
  • Semiotics and literature.
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