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  • Editor's Note
  • Roswitha Burwick and Richard Sperber

The essays collected in this issue address the complex interrelationship of literature and politics from seventeenth-century Spain to the twentieth-century United States. Although structures and strategies differ, the common theme is a close critical engagement with discourses of (societal) inclusion, in particular the question of voices heard and voices silenced. Carole-Anne Tyler sets the stage by tracing the precarious status of voice in philosophical, scientific, governmental, and theoretical discourses of inclusion. In contrast to Ginsberg's vocal aggression, Ashbery's poetry—although mute in terms of open protest and political dissent—reveals nevertheless his ideological stance when he employs rhetorical techniques to critique and motivate. Cardoso's worldly polemic is instrumental in fashioning the "New Jew," while Andrés Caicedo and Efraim Medina Reyes reinvent the protagonists of the classical German Bildungsroman.

At the beginning of "The Voice of Reason," Tyler underscores the social and political importance of voice: "Individuals and communities alike are characterized as 'increasingly vocal' as they mature. 'Having a say' is fundamental to notions of democratic self-government." At the same time, voice complicates this ideal because it "says more than it means." This gap between saying and meaning points to a problem of representation that Tyler's contribution explores on a number of levels, most notably contemporary identity politics as well as Enlightenment philosophy. On the one hand, voice resists the [End Page 123] emphasis on "authentic speech" in identity politics as well as Enlightenment generalizations, such as the concept of "Man." Its affinity with post-World War II Critical Theory's "defetishizing the voice and casting doubt on self-presence through speaking and hearing" situates voice on the side of polysemy. On the other, the poststructuralist concept of polysemy generalizes about Difference and ignores particular voices. Spivak's "Can the Subaltern Speak?" redressed this poststructuralist lacuna by exploring the possibility of representing subaltern voices. While Spivak views representation as a form of delegation, Tyler returns to a number of Enlightenment thinkers in order to recuperate a broader notion of representation.

For Tyler, thinkers such as Kant, Hegel, Hobbes, but also Freud, conceived of representation as an inclusion of the particular in the universal that would maintain the uniqueness of the particular. This is possible in Kant's aesthetic theory but not in certain governmental discourses and policies which, as in contemporary France, reduce the particular—Muslims and women—to "immutable difference." Hegel emphasized the dialectical movement of particular and universal in which each mirrors itself in the other. Following Jean-Luc Nancy's reading of Hegel as the thinker of unreconcilable negativity, Tyler locates a place for "the restless negativity" of voice in Hegel's thought. In contrast to the coercive production of citizens in contemporary France, Freud's notion of the Entstellung of "dream work" allows individuals to resist forced societal inclusion through "fantasmatic identification." Hobbes, finally, complicates the Enlightenment through "the radical alterity of God" which today resonates in the animal: "In the secular modern West, when God as Other no longer signifies for many, the animal has become a key figure of a radical alterity whose call must be heeded." The end of "The Voice of Reason" returns to its introductory point about "having a say," now exploring speaking as a process in which the voice is not truncated or excluded in the process of inclusion. Focusing on Helen Keller's interactions with her teacher, Tyler discusses this quasi-feral child's absorption into society, i.e., the translation of Helen's voice into rational speech. Tyler here finds an instance where "tactile 'noise' becomes meaningful 'speech,'" without being "depicted as a product of Foucauldian discipline."

Tom Jesse begins his essay "John Ashbery's Unexceptional Politics" with the argument that although Ashbery's poems remain silent on contemporary politics, they are nevertheless political not at macroscopic levels of slogans and platforms but at microscopic levels of puns, metaphors, and parataxis. Citing Apter's Unexceptional Politics: On Obstruction, Impasse, and the Impolitic, Jesse contends that the poet experiments with language and form to offer an "implicit critique of constitutive nationalist fictions that require the erasure of vulnerable, marginalized populations–the very...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2326-067X
Print ISSN
0078-7469
Pages
pp. 123-127
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-21
Open Access
No
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