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Editor's Column: Antagonistically Speaking

From: The Comparatist
Volume 37, May 2013
pp. 1-4 | 10.1353/com.2013.0018

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This issue focuses on antagonisms. The topic's relevance for comparative literature seems at once evident and elusive. This volume asks: How might one conceive of antagonism today? Why are certain forms of antagonism readily made visible while others remain hidden—or simply disavowed (Žižek 23)? How does the field of literary studies manage its own antagonism(s)? Is antagonism—antagonistic rivalry between critics—a hindrance to the faithful work of interpretation? Or is it better understood as, or in terms of, the field's engine of change (cf. Fish 150)? I am reminded here of Michel Foucault's understanding of power:

At the very heart of the power relationship, and constantly provoking it, are the recalcitrance of the will and the intransigence of freedom. Rather than speaking of an essential freedom, it would be better to speak of an "agonism"—of a relationship which is at the same time reciprocal incitation and struggle; less of a face-to-face confrontation which paralyzes both sides than a permanent provocation.

(221-22)

To conceive of the scene of reading as agonistic is to foreground its dialogical force, to highlight interpretation as a struggle for meaning. The contributors of this volume pursue in their own distinct ways this "permanent provocation," harnessing antagonism for its productive interpretive potential.

The issue opens with Peter Hitchcock's discussion of the role of antagonism in conceptualizing world literature and literary criticism. "The Function of Agon at the Present Time" takes up scale as a particularly helpful heuristic in investigating the purpose of criticism in a field whose antagonisms have been redrawn with the reemergence of world literature. Hitchcock discusses the politics eschewed in turning to the "world" without interrogating that act of scaling as an act of scaling itself. Shifting focus to academe more broadly, Jeffrey R. Di Leo argues for the value of antagonism to current debates over the shape of higher education in "Agonistic Academe: Dialogue, Paralogy, and the Postmodern University." Drawing out the premises underpinning recent critiques of the university and its corporatization, Di Leo contends that the ideals of consensus and dialogue shaping much discussion must give way to justice and paralogy—which aims at dissent and instability—as goals of our thinking if we are ever to shake the academy "out of its corporate slumber." Matthew Mullins similarly seeks to restore antagonism to criticism, contending in his piece, "Antagonized by the Text, Or, It Takes Two to Read Alice Walker's 'Everyday Use,'" that the putatively antagonistic relationship between demystifying critic and literary text commonly takes the form instead of a "one-sided interrogation" leaving no room for exchange. Mullins proposes to revise our conception of textual agency in order to free criticism to account better for literature's affective and cognitive provocations. In "Contemporaneity and Antagonism in Modernist and Postmodern Aesthetics," Gillian B. Pierce further pursues the concept of paralogy in her discussion of avant-garde politics and aesthetics. Tracing the ways in which recent turns to the term "contemporaneity" actually involve returning to older ideas, despite the temporal break it suggests, Pierce argues for rethinking the relationship between the modern and the postmodern, as well as the oppositional role that avant-garde art still plays in the current moment. Next, Laurie Edson's "Staging Diaspora: Memory, Writing, and Antagonism in Maryse Condé's Desirada" examines the ways in which diasporic art navigates temporal continuities and disjunctures, focusing in particular on antagonisms between transnational experience or practices governed by a logic of relationality and a search for origins anchored rather in a metaphysics of presence. In "Duras and Platonic Love: The Erotics of Substitution," Paul Allen Miller then draws out the tensions between transcendence and immediacy, as well as their mutual imbrication, in the structure of desire marking Duras's and Plato's surprisingly similar explorations of erotic plenitude and nonfulfillment.

Focusing on discursive antagonisms more specifically, the articles that close the section bring innovative perspectives on language, aporia, and politics. Through a careful reading of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar's foundational 1909 work and Jay Dubashi's 1992 essays, Manisha Basu, in "A Battle of the Books: Linguistic Antagonisms and the Crisis of Postcolonial Secularism," demonstrates the vital importance...



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