- From the Editor: Masked Readings
When Georges Bataille founded the journal Critique in the aftermath of the Second World War, he had at least two aims. His periodical would first go beyond the fragmentation of human knowledge. Concurrently, it would put the emphasis on the new now of thinking. As of 1949, Critique began defining itself as a publication that would “give contour to the whole movement of contemporary thought.” To accomplish those two goals, Bataille reinvented a scholarly genre: he turned the—traditionally short—book review into a full-fledged article, where a serious and thorough critique of one or several volumes would pave the way to “responsive” ideas and hypotheses.
At its inception in the early 1970s, diacritics positioned itself as a crucial place for the transmission and circulation of the ideas, concepts, methods, and provocations that were then being “imported” from Europe. What came to be known as theory immediately appeared to exceed disciplinary (and geographic) borders, while greatly contributing to the reconfiguration of the humanities in the United States and beyond. By its very title, diacritics referred to Bataille’s prior endeavor. It also retained the poetics of the long and argumentative book review as one of its hallmarks. In a world that is saturated with instant communication, the need for printed debates about recently published books might seem less relevant than in past decades. Actually, academic blogging and websites do offer a good forum for a new sort of well-informed reaction, and we can bet that the influence of such platforms will only grow. That being said, I believe we still need diacritical readings, allowing authors not only to describe, not only to contest, but also to present their viewpoint. By expounding on the argument of a book, one certainly “dons a mask” and introduces more personal notions that will unfold later.
This current issue of diacritics is a tribute to the genre I just evoked. In this scholarly masked ball, Christophe Wall-Romana identifies the main figures that Quentin Meillassoux conjures up in his study of Stéphane Mallarmé, The Number and the Siren. In so doing, Wall-Romana reattributes power to interpretation against deciphering. Avram Alpert, in his examination of Kenneth Warren’s What Was African American Literature?, wonders how we can speak on behalf of history within literary studies. William Franke interrogates the critical persona of Dante through a deep reconsideration of two books by Justin Steinberg, who, in his turn, responds to Franke. Quite logically, Brian McGrath’s “Dead Men Running”—the only article in this issue not in the review format—deals with prosopopoeia, i.e., with a trope that lends a new face and mask (both senses of the Greek prosopon) to an author. [End Page 1]