- The Differences Barbara Johnson Makes:Introduction
On December 15, 2003, on the occasion of the publication of Barbara Johnson's Mother Tongues: Sexuality, Trials, Motherhood, Translation, Jonathan Culler, Jane Gallop, and Judith Butler spoke in a celebration at Harvard University. On December 28, 2004, Culler, Gallop, Lee Edelman, and Hortense Spillers spoke in an MLA session organized by Susan Gubar entitled "The Differences Barbara Johnson Makes." We publish these five short talks as a tribute to a critic who has done so much to advance the sort of theoretical and critical practice to which Diacritics is committed.
Although I was delighted to be invited to the Harvard University celebration in honor of the publication of Barbara Johnson's Mother Tongues: Sexuality, Trials, Motherhood, Translation, I was unable to travel on December 15, 2003. The misfortune of not hearing Jonathan Culler, Jane Gallop, and Judith Butler speak made me acutely aware of many other people who—whether or not they know Barbara Johnson personally—have found themselves intimately captivated and often oddly elated by her critical acumen. It seemed fitting to organize a session at the Modern Language Association open to all those colleagues in the profession who prize her translations, books, classes, and lectures. That these colleagues come from so many different departments and programs—English, French, and Comparative Literature; African-American, Gender, and Gay studies—testifies to the astonishing versatility of Barbara Johnson's scholarly contributions.
After I introduced the four speakers on the December 28, 2004 panel—Jonathan Culler, Hortense Spillers, Lee Edelman, and Jane Gallop—I told the audience that I suspected each of them had a different favorite critical text or pedagogic moment. I meant not exactly a favorite text or moment, but really a sort of touchstone text or moment that instructs and delights us as a paradigm of what criticism can be at its most subtle, its most supple. No doubt this is why Mother Tongues won Honorable Mention in the competition for the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for an Outstanding Scholarly Work in the Field of Comparative Literature Studies. Luminous clarity characterizes Barbara Johnson's engagement with the difficult differences she addresses in matters aesthetic and racial, sexual and ethical, linguistic and political, and always profoundly terrestrial. I am grateful that Jonathan Culler has integrated and published talks from both the events in honor of Barbara Johnson as, in his words, "a tribute to a critic who has done so much to advance the sort of theoretical and critical practice to which Diacritics is committed."
Susan Gubar is a Distinguished Professor of English and Women's Studies at Indiana University. She writes on race and gender issues in twentieth-century British and North American cultural contexts.