Nature did not equip any of its creatures with wheels, but that means of locomotion was discovered anyway; an even swifter vehicle for the mind has been found in the atom—that irreducible unit which by virtue of its ubiquity provides reason with immediate access to alien objects, naturalizes nature, and urges an essential likeness beneath appearances so diverse that only an improbable imagination would even have placed them in a single world. The goal of atomism is to find one entity, (...) a building block which then in multiples constitutes the structures of reality and appearance. All that is needed, given this once and future One, is a set of transformational rules—and everything comes to life that has been dreamed of in the topologies of geometry, physics, history, even of metaphysics: a full representation of the world as it has been, is, will be. The ideology of atomism includes the assumption that, for structures distinguishable into parts and wholes, the parts precede the whole, temporally and logically. For the atomist, all structures can be analyzed in this way; that, in fact, turns out to be his definition of structure. This premise is already evident in the building-block universe first depicted by Democritus and Leucippus; it is no less present in the heady days of twentieth-century physics . It is slightly more pliable in latter-day atomists like Claude Lévi-Strauss and Noam Chomsky and their descendent structuralists; but here, too, atomic units of linguistic or social discourse are claimed as blind first causes of the sighted and complex structures allegedly derived from them. And if the followers of even these contemporary advocates find themselves still waiting for the promises of atomism to be kept, the imaginative turns of those promises—the binary code, the rules of an innate grammar—keep old expectations alive. In contrast to this general ideological assertion, the search for artistic atoms by poetics and aesthetic theory has lagged noticeably. We can see this disparity in the characteristic resistance to fragmentation by works of art; for many writers, the will of artistic appearance to exhibit itself as a whole, to insist on an undivided surface rather than on the elements within or beneath it, is precisely what distinguishes the structures of art from others. Even where a craftsmanlike impulse breaks into the surface of artistic unity , the pieces are usually counted teleologically: they matter as contributions to an effect, retrospectively. The artist himself, it is implied, deployed them in the first place to anticipate the unified surface; we , in turn, then understand them only in terms of that whole, not—with the atomist—by conjuring a unity from the earlier accidental joining of what then become accidental parts. (shrink)
The two books discussed here join a current pushback against the concept of genocide. Nichanian focuses on the Armenian “Aghed” , inferring from his view of that event’s undeniability that “genocide is not a fact” . May’s critique assumes that groups don’t really—“objectively”—exist, as individuals do; thus, genocide—group murder—also has an “as if” quality so far as concerns the group victimized. On the one hand, then, uniqueness and sacralization; on the other hand, reductionism and diffusion. Alas, the historical and moral (...) claims in “defense” of both genocide and “genocide” survive. (shrink)
Six questions are outlined and then responded to about Holocaust denial. These consider Holocaust denial’s view of the Holocaust counterfactually—if it had occurred; the presumed adequacy of the binary choice between Holocaust denial and affirmation; the status and credence of their own assertions among denial advocates; the often implied historiographic uniqueness of Holocaust denial; the contributions to Holocaust history of the denial position; the measures—scholarly, legislative, practical—that have been or might be directed at the phenomenon of Holocaust denial.
"These essays are extremely well written, with the clarity and accessibility that one has come to expect from Berel Lang, one of the most respected and significant philosophers writing about the Holocaust and its impact." —Michael L. Morgan In these trenchant essays, philosopher Berel Lang examines post-Holocaust intepretations—and misinterpretations—showing the ways in which rhetoric and ideology have affected historical discourse about the Holocaust and how these accounts can be deconstructed. Why didn’t the Jews resist? How could the Germans have done (...) what they did? Why didn’t more bystanders join in the rescue? In Lang’s view, these questions become mischievous when the circumstances in which victims, perpetrators, and bystanders played their roles are omitted or obscured. To confront such issues adequately requires comparative and contextual evidence. Post-Holocaust addresses such questions as the place of the Holocaust in the Nazi project as a whole, the roles of revenge and forgiveness in post-Holocaust Jewish thinking, Holocaust commemoration as artifice or "business," and the relationship of the Holocaust to traditional antisemitism. Lang’s analysis provides an incisive and fruitful basis for confronting these critical subjects. Jewish Literature and Culture—Alvin H. Rosenfeld, editor. (shrink)
This work analyzes the relation between writing and ethics in a number of important social contexts - in politics, as language discloses its connections to the institutions of totalitarianism and democracy; in the university; in social life; and in everyday writings, such as journalism.
Originally published in 1991, this book analyses the relation between writing and ethics in a number of social contexts - in politics, as language discloses its connections to the institutions of totalitarianism and democracy; in the university, as contemporary scholarly ideals find an uncomfortably accurate representation in the stylistic forms of academic writing; in daily social practice, ranging from the status of truth in journalistic writing to the connection between pronouns and affirmative action; and finally in the ethical structure of (...) language itself. (shrink)
The history of Western philosophy is predominantly a history of written texts, but philosophers have lived in that history and looked back at it as if a dependence on such unusual and complex artifacts had nothing to do with the work of philosophy itself. The assumption behind this notion of a literary “museum without walls” is that philosophical meaning is self-generating and transparent—that both the medium and form of philosophical texts as they appear to the reader are accidental causes, with (...) no significant consequences for philosophical meaning itself. (shrink)
The occurrence of earthquakes is usually ignored or discounted as an environmental issue, but the environmental relevance of the science of earthquake prediction is demonstrable. The social consequences of such predictions, when they are accurate, and even when they fail, have implications of such varied environmental issues as land-use control, building codes, social and economic costs. Lay members of the public are more directly involved in programs of earthquake prediction than in almost all other instances of scientific prediction, if only (...) because the scientific findings require public participation in order to have any effect at all. Attention must be paid, accordingly, to the effect of specific public and social values on the practice of earthquake prediction-ranging from such broadly based ones as conceptions of the general relation between man and nature to narrower ones like the cost-benefit analysis of a program of earthquake prediction itself. Because of the close connection between the efficacy of earthquake prediction and public attitudes, moreover, certain questions concerning the social character of “normal” science and the deprofessionalization of scientific institutions are highlighted in this context. (shrink)
The question, How is style possible? assumes the existence of style and sufficient evidence for this assertion, as well as for determining what it means, appears in the talk about style, in the deployment of stylistic categories. That talk extends in common usage to such attenuated references as styles in dress, styles of social exchange, life-styles. To limit the discussion, I speak here primarily of artistic style, but it will be clear that the ramifications of the argument extend beyond the (...) arts, indeed beyond style as well. When we pursue this line of inference, the practical question of what the use or function of stylistic analysis is plays a controlling role and in effect sets a dialectic in motion. For if, as I suggest, there is a stopping short in the first—adverbial or instrumental—model of style and an amending completeness in the first—verbial or transitive—model, that difference starts from their respective conceptions of the function which stylistic analysis and finally style itself serve. It is important, then, to keep the question of function in mind, to allow it to spend its own force; that question serves, in fact, as a mediating link between the appearance of style and the discourse about it, on the one hand, and the final question of how style is possible, on the other. The two models of style to be described differ explicitly on the last of these points, and they differ at least tacitly in their conception of the mediating link, the question of the function or use of style. Those differences in turn make a practical difference even in the immediate description of particular styles. Berel Lang, whose "Space, Time, and Philosophical Style" appeared in the Winter 1975 issue of Critical Inquiry, is professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, the author of Art and Inquiry, co-editor of Marxism and Art: Writings in Aesthetics and Criticism, and the editor of The Concept of Style. "Style as Instrument, Style as Person" is part of Person and Representation: The Intentions of Style. (shrink)
The essays by Hans Kellner, Wulf Kansteiner, and Robert Braun in the Forum, "Representing the Holocaust" attack historical realism as a legitimate form of such representation. Like any other part of narrative, "facts" do not speak for themselves in respect to the Holocaust or any other historical "event"; they are context-dependent and thus speak only in the voice of their interpreters. The symposiasts adopt this view on the assumption that an alternative to historical realism will yet reaffirm the primary data (...) of the Holocaust: the number of deaths, identities, places, dates. But I argue to the contrary: that ontologically there is but one alternative to historical realism, and that this alternative offers no ground even in principle for acknowledging a contradiction between an assertion and a denial that, for example, "On January 20th, l942, Nazi officials at Wannsee formulated a protocol for the 'Final Solution of the Jewish Question.'" Thus, at least in respect to items of chronicle, historical realism must be granted--unless one is ready to affirm, as the symposiasts apparently are not, a radical epistemic and moral skepticism. (shrink)