- From the Editor: Homage
In the Middle Ages, an homage was a codified ceremony, whose aim was to create or revive links of vassalage: a lord would officially become the man (hom) of a suzerain. Contemporary universities sometimes retain so many undesirable traits of feudalism that one could be wary of any scholarly reappropriation of a medieval structure or concept. But one cannot ignore that, in the twelfth century, and probably before that, homage was already the name for a “publication of respect” that would not automatically be exclusive, or constrained by political, or even gendered, factors. In fact, in the very fabric of our work we constantly pay homage to former experiences, to our predecessors and contemporaries.
This current issue, then, is a clear homage to the past of diacritics. Alexis Briley’s “De Man’s Obstacles” is the final piece we are publishing of a triptych of sorts: the first “panel” was Paul de Man’s lecture on “Hölderlin and the Romantic Tradition”;1 the second was Cynthia Chase’s commentary on de Man’s text.2 With Dragan Kujundžić’s review essay on Alexander Sokurov’s 2015 film Francofonia and his interview with the director, we are alluding to the first years of this journal, when it featured a regular column on recent cinematic works (Fellini’s Satyricon, Bergman’s Persona, Antonioni’s Blow-Up, or Godard’s Tout va bien) and often offered discussions with important creators (Julio Cortázar and Isaac Bashevis Singer, for instance).
Our collection also pays homage to noted artists and thinkers. The inclusion of visual work by Svetlana Boym is a tribute to her memory. Our opening pages on and with Sokurov should be taken as a sign of deference to his genius. And genius, as a concept, plays a key role in Anthony Curtis Adler’s provocative interpretation of Giorgio Agamben as a comic author—or, at least, as a philosopher sometimes wearing the mask of comedy. Are all homages bound to be the expression of nostalgia? Sokurov’s own regrets on working in cinema, as conveyed in “The Museum Fever of the Old World,” might be another confirmation of the nostalgic dimension of any tribute. If nostalgia had to accompany homages—and I seriously doubt this would be an inevitable law—then let it shape the future, to allude to Boym’s celebrated 2001 book.
We cannot conceal the fact that the very production of the human (whatever its contours and content might be) is also at stake in both homages and the humanities. While doing mathematics or conducting experimental work, one can admire one’s predecessors and current collaborators, but neither enthusiasm nor respect are the driving forces of the sciences. At their core, the humanities are devoted to the groundbreaking works of art from the past and present, to theoretical systems and doctrines, and to essential figures. An homage, in this sense, does need to be the simple acquiescence to tradition. In fact, the impetus of diacritics was—and, to a large extent, still is—a desire to traverse the arguments of a text in order to create something new. But the most pointed critique sometimes reveals esteem or regard, if not for the book on which it comments, then perhaps for the idea it could have represented. Homages, even when negative, are also what characterize the humanities: they partake in the human affect of our thinking.
1. Paul de Man, “Hölderlin and the Romantic Tradition,” ed. Amalia Herrmann and John Namjun Kim, diacritics 40, no. 1 (2012): 100–129.
2. Cynthia Chase, “Half-Life of a Stumbling Block: Paul de Man’s Earliest Reading of Hölderlin’s ‘Der Rhein,’ ” diacritics 41, no. 1 (2013): 80–113. [End Page 3]