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  • Last Things: Disastrous Form from Kant to Hujar by Jacques Khalip
  • Theresa M. Kelley (bio)
Jacques Khalip. Last Things: Disastrous Form from Kant to Hujar. New York: Fordham University Press, 2018. 8 plates. Pp. 139. $90 cloth/$25 paper.

In Last Things, Jacques Khalip argues for reading Romanticism’s lastness through and by way of philosophical and cultural critique in the contemporary moment. The lastness at issue across this remarkable book includes things themselves, a sense of ends and death that is unremarked, gone past, and already subsumed, a has-been that challenges claims about what might be and what remains. As Khalip makes clear, the ruin this book chronicles begins in Romanticism and in particular in a highly nuanced reading of the Wordsworthian moment in Romanticism when aspiration and hope for the future is crosscut by a darkened language. This moment is on view in the book’s opening chapter, as Wordsworth’s phrase “now no more” in “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey” marks, as past, beyond the speaker’s present, what he once was. As Khalip observes, in a poem so committed to claiming that memory and being survive absence, this phrase quietly puts its aspiration aside, albeit momentarily, in the syntactic turns and counterturns of this poem. What this phrase introduces is a broken sequence stitched together by aural consonances that belie the temporal fracturing that each of these three words signals.

Throughout Last Things, Kahlip’s poetic and critical attention foregrounds such moments, finding in them a Romanticism that is muted, almost if not already beyond lament. Working from a critical disposition that takes its direction from Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, and Barbara Johnson, and other writers whose thinking Khalip thinks with, he reads back through this work to think again about what the decay of figures and things looks like now and what in turn it allows us to see in Romanticism. What Khalip finds there, and in the cultural moment that Romanticism is said to have inaugurated, is not precisely negation, since to negate requires a prior affirmation, followed by its fracturing, but a sense of what he calls “unworlding, unliving, and unthinking” (9). Khalip opposes this view of being and art to conceptual categories that claim what cannot be known by packaging it as though it were already a received category: “world” or [End Page 132] “worlding,” “Anthropocene,” the various historical claims for Romanticism as epochal because revolutionary, in Reinhart Kosselleck’s Neuzeit, or a moment that offered glimpses of Benjamin’s Jetztzeit, or the hetero-normative claim for going on, beyond death, propelled by a reproductive logic of generation that is at once heterosexual and biogenetic. A sustained analysis of queer theory and its rethinking of heteronormativity works across the book. At an especially trenchant moment, Khalip argues that Peter Hugar’s photograph “Triumph” conveys a moment in the 1980’s AIDS epidemic, past, though its finality casts forward and backward in Khalip’s reading of Hugar’s “Triumph” as a contemporary remaking of Shelley’s Triumph.

As this book presents it, lastness is not about or receptive to nostalgia, and it refuses all claims to sentimental recovery. It is hardly accidental that the first topic the book offers under the heading “has-been” is the discipline of Romanticism, once important, now hanging by a thread in the institutional framework of the humanities. The reading practices that shape the book convey Khalip’s conviction that Romanticism ought still to matter, together with the philosophical and cultural dispositions that extend into the present. Khalip is emphatic that the recent disciplinary misfortunes of Romanticism tell us otherwise. Against hope for critics or poet heroes, he urges readers to be attentive to what has already happened, to recognize rather than explain away the trouble we are in, a trouble that is as much cultural and political as it is academic. Even or especially on this point, he assiduously avoids salvific and elegiac gestures that might cast a retrospective or prospective glow. Indeed, he casts them into an irony that recalls Derrida’s reading of arguments for biodegradable waste as a suspicious recovery of what has already been consumed and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 132-135
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-02
Open Access
No
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