On Literary Realism in The Contemporary American Novel


Jonathan Franzen's Freedom performs a reduction on the role of general history, or historical details, in the realistic novel. Freedom, focusing on characters' personal histories and, further, on characters' personal choices, represents a reality in which general history is made meaningful by the characters' choices, rather than the other way around. In the novel, general history, i.e., national or global history, is reduced to character psychology--that reduction is the first of Freedom's turns in an effort to press together a reality. The next turn is toward metaphor. The characters' psychologies are metaphors for their choices. However, the novel pushes past metaphors. Choice, itself, is the reality represented in the folds of FreedomSo, general history is thrice reduced: once to psychologies, then again to metaphors for choices, and then, ultimately, to choice.

The Historical Now

Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is obviously set in the twenty-first century U.S.A., but, less obviously, tends to play down the significance of details explicitly referring to the twenty-first century U.S.A. For Franzen, in this novel, characters’ interactions with referential details are greater sources of historical significance than the details themselves. The ways his characters relate to details of the twenty-first century U.S.A. matter more to the novel's representation of reality than those details, those specific references to time and place. Of course, such references or details are not entirely without significance; Franzen uses them to communicate milieu to readers, to create tension between characters, and, in general, as a sort of skin to which novelistic muscle is attached. The novelistic muscle, though, begins with the way Franzen’s characters view details about their times and places. The characters consistently look through their personal histories upon such details. That is, the context of such details is consistently the characters' personal histories. This approach to referential details matures as the characters reflect on the choices they make, as their lives or arcs progress: the characters clearly privilege features of their own, personal histories over general details of the twenty-first century U.S.A., as they construct reasons for their choices. The narrator does so, too; he/she has a clear tendency to use features from the characters’ personal histories to explain the characters’ choices. So, historical details of the twenty-first century U.S.A. are wrapped, first, in the characters’ personal histories, and then compressed further within explanations of the characters’ choices or reasons for choices. In a sense, it is just as reasonable to say that Freedom’s historical settings are the moments of the characters’ choices (or, even, of the explanations of their choices) as it is to say the novel’s historical setting is the general time and place its referential details suggest. These assertions about the novel are unpacked in greater detail in the following paragraphs.

Franzen’s use of referential details, in Freedom, aims to communicate a particular milieu to readers and to create tension between characters. From the novel’s first paragraph:

His old neighbors had some difficulty reconciling the quotes about him in the Times (“arrogant,” “high-handed,” “ethically compromised”) with the generous, smiling, red-faced 3M employee they remembered pedaling his commuter bicycle up Summit Avenue in February snow; it seemed strange that Walter, who was greener than Greenpeace and whose own roots were rural, should be in trouble now for conniving with the coal industry and mistreating country people. (Franzen 3)

The passage is about the character Walter Berglund. It presents features about Walter’s personal history, “His old neighbors”, “quotes about him in the Times”, “pedaling his commuter bicycle”, which explain that Walter has gained enough importance or notoriety to be mentioned in a large newspaper and once had neighbors who care at least enough about him to remember some of his looks and work-life. Then, the passage presents explicitly referential details, the names “3M” and “Greenpeace”, which in tandem connote a certain social position, that of being well-employed and liberally educated[1]. The explicitly referential details also create tension between Walter and his old neighbors, tension between the way he’s been characterized by “the Times” and the way his neighbors remember him. Explicitly referential details function similarly in the following passage:

Though Nameless Lake and the newly kindled consumer interest in old Traumatics recordings had brought him more money than his previous twenty years of work combined, he’d managed to blow every dime of it in his quest to relocate the self he’d misplaced. The most traumatic events ever to befall the longtime front man of the Traumatics had been (1) receiving a Grammy nomination, (2) hearing his music played on National Public Radio, and (3) deducing, from December sales figures, that Nameless Lake had made the perfect little Christmas gift to leave beneath tastefully trimmed trees in several hundred thousand NPR-listening households. The Grammy nomination had been a particularly disorienting embarrassment. (Franzen 192)

This passage is about the character Richard Katz. The novel depicts Richard as a musician who once headed a rock band called the “Traumatics”, and “Nameless Lake” is one of his albums. Those, along with other features of his personal history, “he’d managed to blow every dime of it in his quest,” “The… nomination had been a particularly disorienting embarrassment,” explain Richard’s lifestyle and anxiety toward being the center of attention. The explicitly referential details, “National Public Radio… NPR-listening households,” and “a Grammy nomination,” connote a certain social position and create a tension. The “NPR” and “Grammy” references connote that Richard’s music achieved a high degree of mainstream success[2], and so his social position is that of a publically renowned rock musician. The tension the explicit references create is one between Richard and his NPR-listening, Grammy nomination-celebrating fans.

Franzen’s explicit or specific referential details work as a sort of skin to which novelistic muscle is then attached. Franzen animates the details through, or finds vitality or novelistic muscle to move them in the personal histories of his characters. The two passages above are simple examples of this. In both passages, features of the characters’ personal histories have greater significance for the novel than specific details about the twenty-first century U.S.A.[3].     In the passage about Walter, though the references to 3M and Greenpeace do have connotations for his character, it is the features of his personal history, as they relate to those organizations, that make 3M’s and Greenpeace’s connotations matter to both Walter’s character and narrative arc. The references to 3M and Greenpeace do place Walter in a milieu and in tension with other characters, but characteristics of his personal history place the milieu and tension within the bounds of Walter’s development over time. His “rural” roots, the quotes about him in the “Times”, the way he pedaled his “commuter bicycle”, all raise interest in where he came from, where he’s ended up, and how he got there. The milieu and tension, then, become parts of Walter’s story, rather than the other way around. The passage about Richard follows a similar logic. The explicitly referential details are subsumed by features of Richard’s own history, personal historical characteristics like his work as a musician, how he used his money, and his attitude toward mainstream success. Moreover, the very structure of the novel reflects Franzen’s tendency to give a character’s personal history more significance than he gives to specific details about the time and place in which the character lives. The character and narrative arc of Patty Berglund, Walter’s wife and, for a short time, Richard’s lover, is explored and explained primarily through an autobiography that makes up slightly more than one third of the novel. The autobiography is separated into two sections. Each section of Patty’s autobiography focuses on situations that trace the progression of her relationships with her parents and siblings, and her relationships with Walter and Richard. In the first autobiographical section, Patty explains her psychological development as it results from her experiences as a high school basketball player, alienated from her parents and siblings, through her experiences as a discontented housewife who lusts after Richard Katz. In the second autobiographical section, she explains her psychological development as it results from the end of her affair with Richard, her reconciliation with her family members, and her desire to try again to be content as Walter’s wife. Each section of Patty’s autobiography also, in contrast to all other sections of the novel, none of which is autobiographical, marks the passage of long durations. This is to say that the only long durations the novel covers in any extended way, Patty’s teenage years through her middle age, and then her seven year separation from Walter, are measured predominantly by Patty Berglund’s psychological development, which amounts to a character’s personal history, and not events in national or global histories.

The tendency toward the significance of personal history, the significance of characters’ psychology, matures. The characters’ development over time is concentrated in and depicted by the choices they make. The reasons for, or the mechanics of, the choices that the characters make as their narrative arcs progress are frequently explained at length. Additionally, explanations of the reasons for or mechanics of the characters’ choices are based on the characters’ personal histories rather than referential details specific to the twenty-first century U.S.A. The following passage is an example:

Walter was frightened by the long-term toxicity they were creating with their fights. He could feel it pooling in their marriage like the coal-sludge ponds in Appalachian valleys. Where there were really huge coal deposits, as in Wyoming County, the coal companies built processing plants right next to their mines and used water from the nearest stream to wash the coal. The polluted water was collected in big ponds of toxic sludge, and Walter had become so worried about having sludge impoundments in the middle of the Warbler Park that he’d tasked Lalitha with showing him how not to worry about it so much. This hadn’t been an easy task, since there was no way around the fact that when you dug up coal you also unearthed nasty chemicals like arsenic and cadmium that had been safely buried for millions of years. You could try dumping the poison back down into abandoned underground mines, but it had a way of seeping into the water table and ending up in drinking water. It really was a lot like the deep shit that got stirred up when a married couple fought: once certain things had been said, how could they ever be forgotten again? Lalitha was able to do enough research to reassure Walter that, if the sludge was carefully sequestered and properly contained, it eventually dried out enough that you could cover it with crushed rock and topsoil and pretend it wasn’t there. This story had become the sludge-pond gospel that he was determined to spread in West Virginia. He believed in it the same way he believed in ecological strongholds and science-based reclamation, because he had to believe in it, because of Patty. But now, as he lay and sought sleep on the hostile Days Inn mattress, between the scratchy Days Inn sheets, he wondered if any of it was true… (Franzen 333)

The quoted passage is quickly followed by Walter’s decision to express love to his assistant, Lalitha, and, too, to cheat on his wife, Patty (335). The quoted passage may seem to contradict the assertion above, the assertion that explanations of characters’ choices are based on the characters’ personal histories rather than referential details specific to the twenty-first century U.S.A., since it is a long explanation of explicitly referential details about an aspect of the twenty-first century U.S.A. The passage is about coal mining in Wyoming and West Virginia, the ecological damage of coal mining, and contemporary strategies to reduce that damage. It is clearly about the environmental significance of the mechanics of twenty-first century, American coal mining, and yet, the passage is also clearly about Walter’s relationship with his wife and his reasons for choosing to cheat on her. Features of Walter’s marriage are represented by images of coal mining operations. “Polluted water was collected in big ponds of toxic sludge,” represents Walter and Patty’s years of alienation from each other and the resulting resentment. “Dumping the poison back down into abandoned underground mines,” is an image that represents Walter’s attempts to ignore his marital problems. Walter’s personal history allows the early twenty-first century details of American coal mining to lean away from their metonymic function and toward a metaphoric function. The contemporary details of coal mining, because of Walter’s personal history, lean away from describing coal mining itself and toward describing Walter’s reasoning process as he chooses to sleep with Lalitha. In this way, the explicitly referential details are not only subsumed by Walter’s personal history, but subsumed by the moment in which he engages with his personal history while making a choice. The moment of choice comprises his history leading up to that moment.

Walter’s Warblers

Choice is the song of freedom. Choice comprises all the varying vibrations of freedom, and the patterns those vibrations form. In Freedom, choice gives way to an understanding of freedom. The lead characters’ processes of choosing, that is to say, the novel’s explanations of why lead characters make the choices they make, gives readers of Freedom a sense of what it is like, for the characters, to have freedom. Franzen breaks into clear metaphors when describing his characters’ processes of choosing, and his metaphors isolate the possibility that the characters’ choices could have been other than what they are. Through his use of metaphor, he distills a general, commonsensical perception of the concept of freedom. He distills the perception that freedom is the ability to have made a choice other than the choice made. Also, Franzen’s metaphors that make use of images of the natural world, or of man’s treatment of the natural world, disclose something solidified in the experience of having freedom, something necessary to having freedom. For Franzen, or at least for his characters, that solid or necessary thing disclosed is a reality that freedom enframes. The reality enframed by Franzen’s treatment of freedom is, in a sense, a limit to freedom. However, this limit, this reality, is only felt or experienced by having freedom, and it is, itself, an experience or feeling the characters have. The lead characters live in an environment that is safe for them, an environment in which their basic needs are met, in which they can come and go and generally do as they please, without poisonously excessive risk to their lifestyles. They live in a space that allows them to spend their time without being precisely and only concerned about their or their loved ones’ immediate survival or well being. Yet, through their use of such freedom, the characters experience a strange limit. Through their freedom, the characters come to feel a deeper reality, a reality that is somehow an end to their freedom and, also, dependent on it. For Franzen, or at least for his characters, having freedom is something like being a rare bird living in a nature preserve preserved so the resources can be exploited. For much of the novel, the character Walter Berglund works for a nature preserve that serves as a home for “hard to see”[4] birds. The preserve is owned by investors who plan to continue maintaining it as a bird sanctuary while also using it as the site of an ecologically damaging coal mining operation. Although he would rather the preserve not be a site for coal mining, Walter realizes that the bird serves as a symbol both for its own freedom and a certain reality limiting its freedom, and, reflecting on his work, he sees such a dichotomy in his own life, remarking, “As long as we put a cerulean warbler on our literature, I can do whatever I want,” (223)[5].

Water's wife, Patty Berglund, is the novel's symbol for such freedom. She spends some time living apart from her husband, Walter, on his lakeside property in a rural, undeveloped area of the northern mid-west. It is property that Walter will eventually turn into a mining-free sanctuary for blue cerulean warblers. During Patty’s stay, Walter’s friend Richard Katz visits her. The following passage describes Patty’s process of choosing to cheat on her husband with Richard:

In her sleep, at some still-dark hour… she rose from the bed and let herself into the hall and then into Richard’s bedroom and crawled into bed with him. The room was cold and she pressed herself close to him… That she could… remember it very clearly afterward, does admittedly cast doubt on the authenticity of her sleep state. But the autobiographer is adamant in her insistence that she was not awake at the moment of betraying Walter and feeling his friend split her open. Maybe it was the way she was emulating the fabled ostrich and keeping her eyes firmly shut, or maybe the fact that she afterward retained no memory of specific pleasure, only an abstract awareness of the deed that had been done, but if she performs a thought experiment and imagines a phone ringing in the middle of the deed, the state she imagines being shocked into is one of awakeness, from which it logically follows that, in the absence of any ringing phone, the state she was in was a sleeping one. (Franzen 167-168)

A metaphor with an image of the natural world, or with an image of man’s treatment of the natural world, is already in play when the passage begins. Patty, living on Walter’s property, is like a warbler living on bird sanctuary land. Moreover, the passage is an excerpt from Patty’s autobiography. So her words, her speech, her voice all are on a sort of protected ground. This metaphoricity isolates the possibility that Patty’s choices could have been other than what they are. Patty is in no way caged on Walter’s land. She can come and go as she pleases. She is only there because she likes it there. Her autobiography extends this freedom. She could have avoided writing about this particular feature of her history. She also could have forgotten it altogether. The point is that it is possible this event in her life could have gone differently, if she had made different choices. Franzen’s strategic use of metaphor penetrates or mines the passage further. There is something necessary, a reality, something solid Patty feels through her use of her freedom, something she experiences through her choices. And she closes her eyes to it. She declares her experience of the reality her freedom enframes a dream. Franzen, however, suggests to the reader an image of the natural world sticking its head in sand, while a man “splits her open”. That image is enframed by Patty’s own voice. The feeling that Franzen’s suggested image evokes is the feeling or experience Patty has through her freedom; and it is the limit, the deeper reality that is somehow an end to her freedom yet only experienced through it. As the story plots along, Patty’s choice to be with Richard and her choice to write about it result in her alienation from Walter’s land, and in Walter’s refusal to read anymore of her writings.

Richard, the successful musician, chooses to refrain for a short time from playing his songs and exercise one of his other skills, carpentry. In deciding to take up carpentry again, Richard experiences the limit within freedom, through his freedom to make his decision. The following passage explains his decision making process:

Katz had read extensively in popular sociobiology, and his understanding of the depressive personality type and its seemingly perverse persistence in the human gene pool was that depression was a successful adaptation to ceaseless pain and hardship. Pessimism, feelings of worthlessness and lack of entitlement, inability to derive satisfaction from pleasure, a tormenting awareness of the world’s general crappiness: for Katz’s Jewish paternal forebears, who’d been driven from shtetl to shtetl by implacable anti-Semites, as for the old Angles and Saxons on his mother’s side, who’d labored to grow rye and barley in the poor soils and short summers of northern Europe, feeling bad all the time and expecting the worst had been natural ways of equilibriating themselves with the lousiness of their circumstances. Few things gratified depressives, after all, more than really bad news. This obviously wasn’t an optimal way to live, but it had its evolutionary advantages. Depressives in grim situations handed down their genes, however despairingly, while the self-improvers converted to Christianity or moved away to sunnier locales. Grim situations were Katz’s niche the way murky water was a carp’s. His best years with the Traumatics had coincided with Reagan I, Reagan II, and Bush I; Bill Clinton (at-least pre-Lewinsky) had been something of a trial for him. Now came Bush II, the worst regime of all, and he might well have started making music again, had it not been for the accident of success. He flopped around the ground, heavily and carplike, his psychic gills straining futilely to extract dark sustenance from an atmosphere of approval and plenitude. He was at once freer than he’d been since puberty and closer than he’d ever been to suicide. In the last days of 2003, he went back to building decks. (Franzen 193)

Franzen distills the perception that freedom is the ability to have made a choice other than the choice made. He does this by breaking into metaphor immediately after the sentence “Now came Bush II, the worst regime of all, and he might well have started making music again, had it not been for the accident of success.” This sentence, minus its final clause, explains that Richard has every reason he needs to make music and not take up carpentry. However, the final clause complicates the explanation. The final clause explains that Richard also has every reason he needs not to make music, and thus to employ one of his other skills. As a whole, the sentence explains that Richard has every reason he needs to either take up music or refrain from doing so. In this way, Franzen prepares readers for the full force of meaning of the metaphor that follows, “He flopped around the ground, heavily and carplike.” The carp, flopping around the ground, could flop in either of two directions: its left or its right. Though Richard ends up choosing to refrain from making music and to take up carpentry, the “carp” in carpentry itself working as a symbol of the sort of decision making process Richard inevitably is in, the image of the carp flopping remains as an sign that Richard’s choice could have been other than it turned out to be. The image of a carp is also mentioned earlier in the passage, again to explain the decision making process Richard is inevitably in. So, this image of the natural world, the carp as it is in its murky water and then as it is flopping on land, just as reasonably an image of man’s treatment of the natural world as it is an image of the natural world itself, works doubly as an explanation of Richards choice and an evocation of the feeling or experience Richard has of the inevitable limit within his freedom. The natural world image, the reality within his freedom, is that of being a carp in “grim situations” underwater, in its own murk, and being a carp in a grim situation out of its element, flopping about aimlessly to find its way back to its earlier state. (If Richard would just realize that he’s a bird, his flopping around wouldn’t seem so grim to him.) Richard’s carpentry job ends up forcing him to confront his success as a musician, and so his freedom to choose between music and carpentry reaches an end through the very choice it enframed.


Franzen, Jonathan. Freedom. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. Print.

Furst, Lilian R. All Is True: the Claims and Strategies of Realist Fiction. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1995. Print.

Mill, John Stuart, and Alan M. Dershowitz. On Liberty and Utilitarianism. New York: Bantam, 1993. Print.

[1] 3M is a global technology company: “3M is a diversified technology company serving customers and communities with innovative products and services. Each of our six businesses has earned leading global market positions.” (http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/About/3M/); and Greenpeace is a global organization dedicated to the causes of environmentalism: “There are more than 40 Greenpeace offices around the world… making us one of the few environmental groups that truly works globally on environmental problems.” (http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/about/worldwide/)
[2] NPR is a radio station that reaches listeners all across the U.S.A. and North America (http://www.npr.org/templates/stations/stations/); and Grammys are one of the U.S.A.’s most celebrated awards in popular music (http://www2.grammy.com/Grammy_Foundation/).
[3] It is true that neither passage contains details uniquely about the twenty-first century U.S.A., but only details about late twentieth/early twenty-first century U.S.A. Other referential details, like the title of the novel’s third section, “2004” (p188) and a reference to the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center (p232) and locations of the characters’ jobs, situate the story in the twenty-first century U.S.A.
[4]A small bird of the deciduous forest treetops, the sky-blue Cerulean Warbler is hard to see. It nests and forages higher in the canopy than most other warblers.” http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Cerulean_Warbler/lifehistory

[5]This is a moment of self-reflection for the author, Jonathan Franzen, as well. The front of the dust cover for the 2010, first printing of Freedom has a picture of a large, shiny, blue cerulean warbler on it.

On Utterance and Response in Bakhtin’s The Problem of Speech Genres

Reader-response theories all assert that readers generate, to varying degrees, meanings of texts through their responses to texts. Some reader-response theorists arrive at that assertion after a study of psychological forces or structures, like ego and imagination, at work in the reader while she is reading a text. Others arrive at that assertion based on studies of history, and how readers’ reactions to texts change throughout or are kept more or less stable by the influence of elite readers. Still, other reader-response theorists arrive at that assertion as a result of beliefs about the nature of truth, namely beliefs that derive from a principle stating truth is a consequence of communities of language users, or “interpretive communities”, and not of anything that transcends those communities. (Goldstein 797; Macey 324)

Whether readers’ responses are defined explicitly or implicitly by psychology, history, or epistemology, every such theory must maintain a basic conception of what a response is. Bakhtin’s The Problem of Speech Genres sets forth an analysis of utterances that can be used by reader-response theories as a basic conception of responses.

In giving a general analysis of utterances as basic elements of communication, Bakhtin conflates those (utterances) with responses. So, his work functions as a general analysis of responses and, additionally, implies that they (responses) are basic elements of communication.

His conflation is, in fact, essential to what he argues on the whole to define. What he argues on the whole to define, in the excerpt from The Problem of Speech Genres cited here, is exactly this: groundwork for discussion, and possibly for research, on what he calls speech genres. Utterances, as particular units of speech communication, are argued to be both basic (in the sense of necessary or essential) and typical parts of speech communication. So, typicality is, on Bakhtin’s view, necessary to or at least part of speech communication. And so speech genres are instantiated, at least rudimentarily, by utterances. Bakhtin asserts, “… [A]ll our utterances have definite and relatively stable typical forms of construction of the whole.” (Bakhtin 1238)

The conflation of utterance and response, which I claim is essential to Bakhtin’s groundwork for discussing “relatively stable typical forms of construction of the whole,” should be understood as an element in Bakhtin’s writing that can be used for various aims[1]. The general aim here, in what follows, is only to prove Bakhtin’s conflation of utterance and response and suggest that rhetoric is better than logic at explaining the uses of his conflation.

Bakhtin conflates utterances and responses in this way: in order to define utterances he sets boundaries for them, boundaries that require any utterance to begin as a response to another utterance, yet he does not require or even suggest that utterances, at any point in their durations, cease being responses. This is illustrated by the following quote:

Any utterance—from a short (single word) rejoinder in everyday dialogue to the large novel or scientific treatise—has, so to speak, an absolute beginning and an absolute end: its beginning is preceded by the utterances of others and its end is followed by the responsive utterances of others (or, although it may be silent, others’ active responsive understanding, or, finally, a responsive action based on this understanding). (Bakhtin 1234)

Bakhtin’s use of the phrase “responsive utterances” is the key to understanding my assertion that he conflates utterances and responses. It is because the end of an utterance, which is the precedence for the beginning of another utterance, “is followed by… responsive utterances,” that all utterances begin as “responsive”. Put another way, if the end of every utterance is marked by the beginning of responsive utterances, and if the beginning of every utterance is marked by the end of any utterance, it follows that all utterances begin as responsive utterances. Bakhtin does not distinguish between a responsive utterance and an utterance simpliciter, so all utterances that begin as responsive in all likelihood continue being so through their entire duration. Further, I take “responsive” to mean “is a response”[2].

Of course, Bakhtin may still insinuate that other things, acts of communication besides utterances, can be acts of “responsive understanding”, but if he does this he will only show that utterances may not be the only things that are responses, or he will show that utterances themselves may be more than mere strings of sounds (which is to say, if utterances are responses and responses are not limited to being strings of sounds, it follows that utterances could be things like strings of gestures, strings of thoughts, and anything else that responses are—anything that conveys “active responsive understanding,”) (1234).

The succinct way to explain the direct consequences of my interpolation of Bakhtin’s definition of utterances, the direct consequences for utterances themselves and for responses, is to say that responses may completely overlap utterances or the two may be indistinguishable from each other.

Bakhtin does not seem concerned with this and at some points seems to invite it. He writes, “Any understanding is imbued with response and necessarily elicits it in one form or another: the listener becomes the speaker,” (1233). So, he writes, outright, “understanding is imbued with response.” Further, I take the phrase “the listener becomes the speaker,” to be equivalent to saying that any listener, through her responses to a speaker’s utterances, becomes a speaker of utterances herself and so exemplifies Bakhtin’s acceptance of the conflation of responses and utterances. Bakhtin also writes, “One does not exchange sentences… One exchanges utterances…” (1236). Here, making a distinction between sentences and utterances, and locating that distinction in the relation of “exchange”, he is implicitly stating that utterances insofar as they are necessarily each an exchange are deeply related to responses[3].

It makes sense for Bakhtin to harbor nonchalance toward distinguishing utterances and responses from one another because, as Bizzell and Herzberg write, he intends to define a “dialogic method” of understanding the relationship between speakers and audiences (Bizzell 1209). Insofar as dialog is characterized by responses, Bakhtin’s intended “method” is at stake when he conflates utterances and responses.

A sense of isolation, in his view, that has haunted theorists’ attitudes toward utterances is pathologically incorrect:

Still current in linguistics are such fictions as the “listener” and “understander” (partners of the “speaker”), the “unified speech flow,” and so on.… One cannot say that these diagrams are false… But when they are put forth as the actual whole of speech communication, they become a scientific fiction. (Bakhtin 1232)

What he is criticizing here is any approach to linguistics that treats a subject who is involved in speech communication, that is, a subject who is either saying or hearing utterances, as anything other than a speaker. The categories “listener” and “understander” may, in his view, be subcategories of “speaker”, but if they are not recognized as subcategories, subcategories that imply they are always subsumed by the larger category “speaker” (that is, the larger category: the one who is giving utterance), then the categories “listener” and “understander” “become scientific fiction”, or in other words falsehoods that are technically and repeatedly motivated. And so, by treating utterances as responses (that is, responses to preceding utterances, which is, responses to responses) he eschews any sense of isolation in speech communication; he eschews the sense of detachment-from-dialog that the notion of any mere utterance (a mere utterance, maybe, that has listeners and even understanders, but no responders)[4] may conjure. Such mere utterances, on Bakhtin’s view, per his definition of utterance, are impossible. Instead, he makes utterances pivot points of dialog by infusing them with the connectivity inherent in responses. This is a sort of strengthening of the notion of utterances, strengthening in the sense that it gives them broad reach and power as analytic tools of theories of communication.

Bakhtin’s conflation strengthens responses too. Utterances have empirical values, since they have a basic existence in material reality (as strings of sounds). In contrast, the ontology of responses tends toward abstraction. It is necessary here to quote at length from Hegel’s introduction to The Science of Logic. In its own context, the quote below is about the dialectical nature of thought. However, what seems clear to me is that the quote is also about talking to oneself, that is, the quote is about responding to oneself and responding to those responses and so on. As such, the quote is a fine example of the quick tumble into abstraction that an analysis of responses can do if responses are not tied to something with at least the auditory concreteness of utterances. Hegel writes:

The mind or spirit, when it is sentient or perceptive, finds its object in something sensuous; when it imagines, in a picture or image; when it wills, in an aim or end. But in contrast to, or it may be only in distinction from, these forms of its existence and of its objects, the mind has also to gratify the craving of its highest and most inward life. That innermost self is thought. Thus the mind renders thought its object. In the best meaning of the phrase, it comes to itself; for thought is its principle, and its very unadulterated self. But while thus occupied, thought entangles itself in contradictions, i.e. loses itself in the hard-and-fast non-identity of its thoughts, and so, instead of reaching itself, is caught and held in its counterpart. This result, to which honest but narrow thinking leads the mere understanding, is resisted by the loftier craving of which we have spoken. That craving expresses the perseverance of thought, which continues true to itself, even in this conscious loss of its native rest and independence, ‘that it may overcome’ and work out in itself the solution of its own contradictions. (Hegel 15)

What Hegel means by the mind “craving” “its highest and most inward life” is that the mind craves its “innermost self”, which is “thought”. By describing the state of the mind while it is in the presence of its innermost self as a “craving”, Hegel implies that the mind is in a mode of actual wanting or even necessitating itself; and thus he implies that the mind, by being in a given mode, gives a sort of response to itself[5]. He goes on to describe the nature of the mind’s responses. Of course, all of what Hegel is describing is very abstract[6]. Bakhtin, treating utterances as responses, seems to counter such a tendency toward abstraction inherent in the relational nature of responses; he seems to counter it enough to suggest that his dialogism is conducive to empirical quantification, at least in part. “The utterance is not a conventional unit, but a real unit, clearly delimited by the change of speaking subjects,” (Bakhtin 1234). This declaration, that utterances are “real” units, suggests their root in the materiality of vocal sounds. The simple, straight forward delimiting of utterances, “by the change of speakers”, is a method of quantification, a method based in the material reality of speakers and sounds. So, insofar as they are utterances, responses have basic empirical guidelines for measurement, on Bakhtin’s view, and thus seem rescued from Hegel’s vertiginous metaphysical gymnastics.

Nevertheless, the strengths that Bakhtin’s conflation invests utterances and responses with do not escape criticism.

Utterances, as Bakhtin conflates them with responses, end-up having to bear the more abstract qualities of responses and end-up having to answer for those qualities. There are two abstract qualities I have in mind. The first is intentionality; responses have a sort of directional quality to them, that is, they are always responses to something, and thus they are imbued with all the abstractions involved in defining intention. The second is individuation; responses have no clear beginning and end, that is to say, whereas a speaker’s utterance may end when she stops speaking, her response may continue, internally in her thoughts, et cetera; and so attempts to define such boundaries (boundaries for responses) frequently rely heavily on abstractions for definitional force. These abstract qualities, which are forced upon utterances, can be highlighted by further explanation of the Hegel quote above.

Not only does Hegel imply that the mind gives a sort of response to itself, he specifies the response. So, “the mind” rendering “thought its object” is a response to “the craving of its [the mind’s] highest and most inward life.” Such action by the mind is a response because, as I suggested above, the mind is relating to itself. In Bakhtinian idiom, I would say that such action by the mind is a response because the mind is assuming a “responsive position” to its Hegelian “craving”, that is, the mind is in a position to “agree or disagree with it, execute it, evaluate it, and so on,” (Bakhtin 1236). But the mind’s response to what Hegel calls its own “craving” is further defined by Hegel. “Craving” is the object of the mind’s response, which is just to say “craving” is what the mind’s responsive position is toward. The mind’s responsive position toward “craving” “renders thought its object”, which is just to say that, as life turns out, the very action of being in a responsive position toward its craving causes the mind to crave thought. So, in the very act of being in a responsive position toward its craving, the mind is caused to give a response to its responsive position—that response is craving a thought. All of which is just to say, in response to its response to its own “craving”, the mind craves a thought (“renders thought its object”). Hegel, above, does not isolate a more basic notion than “craving”, and so with regard to the quoted excerpt we can assume that “craving” initiates a responsive position on the part of the mind. This, of course, is a paradox because “craving” itself can be analyzed as a responsive position toward whatever is being craved (here, the mind experiences a craving; its response to this craving is to consider thought the thing it craves; and so it craves a thought; but the mind’s very experience, its own craving, is a response to thought). This is what Hegel is addressing when he writes, “its own contradictions,” toward the end of the quote. In any case, the relation between “craving” and “thought”, a relation I call intentionality[7] or a sort of willing, is exactly the first abstract quality that belongs to responses but has, by Bakhtin, been brought to bear upon utterances.

The second abstract quality, individuation, can be seen in Hegel’s sentence, as quoted above:

… [T]hought entangles itself in contradictions, i.e. loses itself in the hard-and-fast non-identity of its thoughts, and so, instead of reaching itself, is caught and held in its counterpart.

Entanglement necessitates a lack of, or at least difficulty making sense of, individual things[8]. Thought, above, is displaced from its initial position as thought and replaced among thoughts, and so is entangled. Hegel’s own attempt at establishing boundaries is at its greatest point of clarity when he introduces the notion of “counterpart”. Unfortunately, individuating a thing’s counterpart from the thing itself offers no clear way out of entanglement. On my explanation of Hegel’s quote, in the preceding paragraph, response is anterior to thought, since the mind’s response to being in a responsive position to its own craving is to crave a thought rather than think a thought. However, exactly because the mind’s initial responsive position compels another response, responsive position becomes one of two responses, and so responsive position is displaced and replaced among responses, analogous to thought and thoughts. Thus they are entangled, continue to be difficult to individuate and, for Bakhtin, imbue utterances with the same difficulty.

In order to address the problem of intentionality, Bakhtin treats utterances as having a “special semantic fullness of value” (Bakhtin 1236). In order to address the problem of individuation, Bakhtin introduces his notion of “finalization of the utterance” (1237), which is a broader, more explanatory notion of “finalization” than merely a “change of speaking subjects” (1237). Such patchwork may solve the difficulties caused by his conflation well enough. Whether or not it does, here is where the notion of rhetoric should be introduced.

Stanley Fish, in his paper Rhetoric, gives “the last word” of his explanation of rhetoric to Richard Rorty. Fish praises Rorty’s work as “the brisk chronicler of our epistemological condition,” (Fish 1627). This gesture by Fish is a subtle but powerful suggestion to rhetoricians, supporting a move to distance themselves from defining rhetoric as a participatory element in argumentation and, instead, opt to define it as explanatory of argumentation. Jeremy Barris, though he himself considers rhetoric to be an essential part of argumentation, sets forth a picture of rhetoric’s relation to logic that is conducive to Fish’s suggestion to rhetoricians. Barris pictures logic as a circle that is closed, and he pictures rhetoric as the result of closing that circle. So rhetoric has a sort of ancestral relation to logic, but is distinct from it, is outside of it. Barris goes on to argue that logic is somehow always closing its own circle and so is always spawning rhetoric, and for this reason rhetoric should actually be viewed as being part of logic’s circle, yet not directly included in it (logic’s circle). Barris should not argue that rhetoric is somehow part of, indirectly included, or necessary to logic’s circle. He should instead simply hold to the view that logic is circular and rhetoric stands outside of it, maybe in an ancestral relation may be not. Whether or how rhetoric derives from logic should not be Barris’ focus. This frees him to focus on what rhetoric does in the face of logic’s circle, which is simply this: it explains it. In other words, rhetoric explains argumentation. Barris himself writes, “[R]eference outside the framework’s circle allows us to conceive specifically how a theoretical framework can… be grounded,” (italics are mine, Barris 357). Rhetoric is the outside reference explaining a scheme’s justification.

For Bakhtin, in order to make use of his definition of utterance he must use rhetoric. The explanation above states, in short, that Bakhtin defines an utterance generally as an utterance that is both a response and an utterance and this is both a strength and problematic. But in defining utterance in this way, it is clear that he uses a circular theoretical framework with regard to utterances. In response to this circularity, Bakhtin must describe the circularity and place it in the context of his larger framework, that of speech genres. I hold that the ways he addresses the problematic aspects of his conflation (cf. previous page, above), those problematic aspects I raised in my explanation of his conflation, are exactly his description and placement of circularity. They are his explanations of his conflation and so his use of rhetoric.

[1] Bakhtin’s conflation may be used as a tool to clarify and refine what a reader-response theory can be. Through the explication of his conflation, pages 3-10 of this paper, undeveloped points in a line of argument that concludes that any reader-response theory is always an interpretation of, or a response to, one or another definition of response can be seen. The points are: my own reading of the Hegel passage as being a passage about talking to oneself and Bakhtin’s writing that argues that a sort of dixi finalizes an utterance (Bakhtin 1234, 1237). My reading is a response, to Hegel, stating that he is defining what a response to oneself is, and Bakhtin’s writing is a definition of what a response to another is. Between myself and Bakhtin, reader and writer, one internally and the other externally, are never not in the act of defining what a response is.

[2] I follow Lilian Furst in treating the quality of being responsive as simply responding, and not in any way containing or encircling responses. Furst, in writing on the reader’s relation to conventions in realist fiction, avoids any discussion of responsiveness and refers only to specific responses. Her stance toward the reader is that positing whether or not he is responsive has naught to do with his relation to the text; but positing what his responses are has everything to do with that relation. “The narrator, through suggestive strategies, acts as the instigator of… the stance ‘Let’s pretend’. In so doing, he functions as one half of the frame. Its complementary other half is provided by the assenting audience through its willingness to enter into that pretense in response to the invitation extended by the narrator. In its readiness to comply with the narrator, the audience is engaging in the game of make-believe that animates realist fiction.” (Furst 49)

[3]Of course, I’m assuming that responses are related, in some significant way, to exchanges. The first definition of exchange, in The American Heritage Dictionary, reads: “To give and receive reciprocally; trade; interchange.” It is intuitive to consider responses the bedrock for social interchange, i.e. intercourse, and thus a necessary element of exchange, insofar as exchange is social. (The American Heritage Dictionary 299, 445)

Further, Plato writes, in his Sophist, while The Stranger is defining what an angler is, that “exchange” is one of two subdivisions of the “acquisitive” arts. “Exchange” is defined as being “voluntary” and “effected by gifts, hire, purchase.” It’s contrasted with “conquest”. (Plato 961) One difference between The Stranger’s conception of exchange, as scribed by Plato, and Bakhtin’s is clear: The Stranger considers exchange “acquisitive” and thus, by his own definition, a non-productive activity. Whether or not that line of argument is pursued, Plato’s text plants exchange squarely within the bounds of social activity and so rooted in responses.

[4] Moby-Dick includes a passage that divorces utterance from the quality of connectivity. “Utterance” is opposed to “linked analogies” in such a way that connotes a sort of jejunity in utterance. The connotation is done by differentiating between it (utterance) and the interpretive vitality (cf. “analogies… cunning duplicate,”) of man’s responses (cf. “atom stirs… in the mind”) to “Nature”: “O Nature, and O soul of man! how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies! not the smallest atom stirs or lives in matter, but has its cunning duplicate in mind.” (Melville 250)

[5] Hegel, in a much latter section of his treatise, writes about the three Kantian modalities: possibility, actuality, and necessity. It is clear that, for Hegel, each of these three modalities is reducible to a rudimentary act of relating to oneself. Possibility is outward reflection-into-self; actuality is inward reflection-into-self; and necessity is “simple self-relation”. He does not give much philosophic weight to the general notion of a mode, but he treats the three modalities as indicative of actions that selves carry out. Insofar as “craving” can be categorized as a mode in at least one of these modalities, “craving” conveys that much more information about what the mind, in and of itself, is doing.

“Actuality is first of all Possibility—the reflection-into-self… only that it is now taken to mean the external inward… supposed only as a bare modality…” (Hegel 202). “[W]e say of what is necessary ‘It is’. We thus hold it to be simple self-relation,” (208).

[6] To prove my accusation of abstraction against Hegel and, furthermore, against responses in general, it may be enough to simply quote The American Heritage Dictionary: “1a. The act or process of abstracting. b. An abstract [i.e. considered apart from concrete existence, or not applied or practical, or abstruse, or summary or condensation of] idea or term. 2. Preoccupation; absent mindedness. 3. An abstract work of art,” (The American Heritage Dictionary 4).

However, it’s interesting to note that Hegel’s own conception of abstraction, which can be gleaned from his use of the word “abstract”, may also be used to supplement my use of the word: “In point of form Logical doctrine has three sides: (α) the Abstract side, or that of understanding; (β) the Dialectical, or that of negative reason; (γ) the Speculative, or that of positive reason… thought is… not a function of Understanding merely. The action of Understanding may be in general described as investing its subject-matter with a form of universality. But this universal is an abstract universal: that is to say, its opposition to the particular is so rigorously maintained, that it is at the same time also reduced to the character of a particular again. In this separating and abstracting attitude… Understanding is the reverse of immediate perception,” (Hegel 113)

[7] I use intentionality in an arguably Husserlian way, a way which is explained well by Robert Sokolowski: “Husserl shows that when we… judge or relate or compose or structure things, we do not merely arrange our internal concepts or ideas or impressions; rather, we articulate things in the world. We bring out parts within wholes… we articulate the presence of things, the manner in which they are given to us. Thus, Husserl’s doctrine of intentionality should not be taken only in regard to perception, in which we are told that the things we perceive do immediately present themselves to us.” (Sokolowski 216)

[8] Feuerbach, in his Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, writes of a loss of difference between thought and being, which for him equates to a loss of difference between philosophy and theology. He goes on to form a critique of Theology based on this loss of difference (he argues that theology’s reaction to the loss of difference between thought and being, philosophy and itself, requires it to disconnect itself from the material world, which initiates a turn against materiality—a doctrine holding that material being is wretched, and then, further, that God is derived exactly from this wretchedness). To further complicate his proposed loss of difference between philosophy and theology, Feuerbach narrows his view of theology to what he calls “neo-platonic” theology. Situating theology, by its very definition, in relation to Plato, Feuerbach perpetuates the loss of difference (likely purposefully). And so, for him, philosophy and theology are inseparable for a time. Thus, they are entangled. He explains that theology’s attempt to disentangle itself is to negate philosophy, or thought, so completely that the negation produces an awe-inspiring otherness, which of course is God or theology itself. My point here is only to present as an example the difficulty and extremity of opposition that theology undertakes in order to individuate itself from philosophy; an example of the problematic nature of individuation.

Works Cited

The American Heritage Dictionary. New York: Dell, 2004. Print.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. "From The Problem of Speech Genres." 1986. Trans. Vern W. McGee.The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001. 1227-245. Print.

Barris, Jeremy. "An Internal Connection between Logic and Rhetoric, and a Legitimate Foundation for Knowledge." Philosophy and Rhetoric 40.4 (2007): 353-71. Print.

Bizzell, Patricia, and Bruce Herzberg. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical times to the Present. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001. Print.

Feuerbach, Ludwig. "29." Principles of the Philosophy of the Future. Trans. Manfred H. Vogel. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1986. 44-48. Print.

Fish, Stanley. "Rhetoric." 1989. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001. 1609-627. Print.

Furst, Lilian R. "Framing the Fiction." All Is True: the Claims and Strategies of Realist Fiction. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1995. 48-72. Print.

Goldstein, Philip. "Reader-Response Theory and Criticism." The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism. By Michael Groden, Martin Kreiswirth, and Imre Szeman. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 2005. 793-97. Print.

Hegel, G. F. W. The Science of Logic. Trans. William Wallace. Hegel's Logic. Clarendon: Oxford, 1975. Print.

Macey, David. "Reader-response Theory." The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory. London: Penguin, 2000. Print.

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. Ed. Hershel Parker and Harrison Hayford. New York: Norton, 2002. Print.

Plato. "Sophist." 1935. Trans. Francis Macdonald Cornford. The Collected Dialogues of Plato, including the Letters. By Plato, Edith Hamilton, and Huntington Cairns. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1989. 957-1017. Print.

Sokolowski, Robert. Introduction to Phenomenology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2000. Print.


Beauty “remedies the bad and improves the good” (Gracián, 8)[1]. In short, the entirety of beauty’s relationship to power is contained in that insight. Beauty is the action of improvement. So, one may ask, “what is improvement?” To improve is, surely, to use power. It might be said that the ability to improve is power. (Sigh), if only power and beauty were always talked about so positively. The following is a defense of beauty and power.

Power is correct judgment. Put another way, power is the ability to adjudicate truthfully—is it not? When the astronomer declares that one of Saturn’s moons has an atmosphere composed mainly of methane, and not nitrogen, she has found, or founded, a fact, and she becomes an authority. When the mathematician discovers a sound proof that certain infinities are smaller than others, instead of equal to them, she too has furnished a fact and is called distinguished. Furthermore, when the university professor determines that, according to the received rubric, one or another of his students has earned a “B” rather than an “A”, he, finally, fixes a fact and is recognized as sovereign.

This way of speaking might be called contrived. One might object to the way “fixing”, “furnishing”, “founding”, “discovering”, and “declaring” are conflated. The complaint is that these are not interchangeable actions. “Discovering” is not the same as “declaring”, and “founding” is not “finding”, and none are the same as “furnishing”. Of these actions certain are investigative, and certain are artistic. That’s not all. An objector might go on saying the meaning of such actions is not only obscured but concocted in support of a counterintuitive thesis. Is objective observation to be thought of as so robust an activity that it includes creation—and judgment as well? The objector's complaint is that there is some sort of intellectual slight-of-hand going on, that the actual world has somehow gone missing. Facts have been construed as creations, and decision-making has replaced proof, and this, simply, isn’t how things work.

Yet, when defining power, such complaints do not make sense. Consider, if the most powerful thing conceived, say, God, or Nature, displays power in the actual world, is it (the display) not merely adjudication between what is and what is not—the ultimate correct judgment? God or Nature may not be omnipotent[2] but, still, be the most powerful thing or things. There may simply be nothing that’s omnipotent. It follows that the authority, distinction, sovereignty, of God or Nature could be undermined, like that of the astronomer, mathematician, and professor. However, in actuality it is not. So, one may say, God, or Nature, holds supreme court, is the final decision-maker, and, regardless of the complaints you, or I, or others might have, we must agree with the final decisions. We must agree with them because we cannot undermine them. Their decisions decide what is, and any contrasting decisions simply are not. Therefore, their decisions, their judgments, are necessarily true. This is power (Voltaire, 177-178)[3].

Beauty, in relation, is the act of power. The simple way to think of it, beauty, is as a symbol of power or power's achievements. Put another way, beauty signifies the use of power. When a man measures his love for another person by how beautiful that person is, the person’s beauty is informing the man of the correctness, the truth, of his love for that person as opposed to another (Kramer, 20, 313-315)[4]. When a little girl accedes to the “accuracy” of being called ugly, she has, at least momentarily, been overpowered (Morrison, 73-74)[5]. And when a nationally renowned architect says his work resembles a “Cecil B. De Mille set”, he implicitly proposes that the quality[6] of his work betrays phoniness, artificiality, untruth (Speer, 159)[7].

This way of defining beauty might be called contrived; the preceding examples share a subtle but salient commonality. In each case beauty is defined negatively—an indirect way to convey a message, to say the least. In each case attention is not directed to the errorless, uncorrupted, necessary truth associated with power; instead, it is directed to cheap, degraded, unworthy things and persons. Might such indirection work to hide an irrational argument? The architect admits his work’s offense—its resemblance to the flimsy, lying, arch-permanency of a movie set (Speer, 147, 160)[8]. The insulted girl confesses to upholding the curse she is accused of (Morrison, 74)[9]. The man who measures his love for a person by their beauty deems ugliness a liability (Kramer, 349)[10].

An interlocutor might claim, in light of the preceding examples, that not beauty but a sort of cruelty symbolizes power. The architect has power over parts of his nation’s land and builds junk art on it. The little girl uses her own power of reason to conclude she is cursed[11]. The man uses his instinctual power, his concupiscent drive, to devalue others. That’s not all. Since cruelty is morally reprehensible, morally incorrect, such an objection threatens the definition of power proffered above. If power can be shown to cause incorrectness, earlier worries about intellectual slight-of-hand and the obscuring of facts by judgments become reasonable.

The objection raises a good point but not a point that works in its favor. Truly, the architect, the little girl, and the man are acting cruelly in the preceding examples. In each case, albeit to varying degrees, each character commits an immoral act. Moreover, cruelty is closely tied to beauty, and thus to power. In each case beauty, the symbol of power, draws attention to cruelty, an immoral act. Yet, immoral acts do not symbolize power. It must be kept in mind that the negation of beauty is what is presented in each case. Additionally, it must be advised that the negation of beauty is not immorality, but ugliness.

So, beauty is defined negatively. That is to say, its negation is presented in order to suggest what it (beauty) is. Ugliness is its negation. In each case ugliness uncovers the cruel, immoral, incorrect behavior of each character. Each character has missed the mark, sinned, erred in some way. Each character is guilty of something. Each character reveals their own guilt by involving themselves with ugliness. Ugliness symbolizes guilt. Therefore, beauty symbolizes correct action.

Consider an object of beauty, say, a work of art. It is meant to be displayed. Its place is in galleries, proud homes, or areas where the public gathers. It is looked at, evaluated; it stands among other things that are looked at and evaluated, the things of the world, and calls attention to itself. There is an intention, an open unfolding of intention[12], in a work of art. Consider, further, the connectedness a work of art’s exhibition revives. In purposefully drawing looks it inspires looks away, looks away at the things around it, things of the world that may not, without the presence of the work of art, activate such activity. The art stimulates interpretation of the originality of what surrounds it. Indeed, a work of art, an object of beauty, is notable for the space it creates. In such a space, where “light” is self-imposed and, in so being, reveals not only what imposed it but other things as well, honesty is at work. An object of beauty creates a space for honesty; beauty exists in a space of “unconcealment” (Heidegger, 178-181)[13].

Openness, “unconcealment”, is the surest display of true judgment. Beauty symbolizes this. In doing so beauty indirectly calls attention to false judgments. Insofar as false judgments are wrong they bear the guilt of damaging rather than improving, a result of doing something wrong. Doing something wrong is to act against power, to sap power, and to do so is cruel. The relationship between power and beauty is exactly that between right judgment and work against cruelty.

[1] “There is no beauty unadorned and no excellence that would not become barbaric if it were not supported by artifice. This remedies the bad and improves the good. Nature scarcely ever gives us the very best—for that we must have recourse to art” (Gracián, 8).

[2] Power, or force, this construct tied intimately to making, shaping, creating, and willing, is, in a causal-mechanical world, responsible for actuality, the totality of facts. Though, that’s not to say the actual world must have been a causal-mechanical one. It’s possible it might have been different. Things might have been different than they are. This just means that God, or Nature, the most powerful thing conceived, might not be all-powerful. If the most powerful thing conceived were omnipotent, then there would be no possibility of things turning out different than they are; there wouldn’t be the possibility that God or Nature’s adjudication, between what is and what isn’t, be other than what it actually is.

[3] “One must be very powerful, very strong, very ingenious, to have created lions which devour bulls, and to have created men capable of inventing weapons which can, at a blow, kill not only bulls and lions, but other men. One must be very powerful to have created spiders which spin webs to catch flies—but this does not mean that one has to be omnipotent, infinitely powerful… We can only conclude and avow that God, having acted for the best, has not been able to act better… This necessity settles all the difficulties and finishes all the disputes. We are not impudent enough to say: ‘All is good.’ We say: ‘All is as little bad as possible’… Try as you will, you can arrive at no other solution than that everything has been necessary.” (Voltaire, 177-178).

[4] “Oh, gorgeous Dinky… the conjunction of all parts… perfect… I love it!” (Kramer 20). “‘OK, buddy. You’re very beautiful to me… I’m just wondering when you’re scheduling us in for a serious try at [love]… I… want... marriage.’” (Kramer, 313-315). Marriage represents partiality to one person over and against others. These quotes are fragmented, but they are not misused; Fred Lemish measures his love for Dinky Adams by how beautiful he finds him.

[5] “‘I am cute! And you ugly!’ …We were sinking under… [her] last words… We were lesser… Dolls we could destroy, but we could not destroy… the Maureen Peals of the world.” (Morrison, 73-74).

[6] If we can agree that De Mille’s work turns on “the need to gaze into the mirror of the beautifying lie and to be moved to tears of gratification at one’s own reflection” (Kundera, 134), then we can agree that his work is kitsch. Kitsch is, of course, “junk art” (134).

[7] “But when I once again saw the color photographs of the model… I was struck by the resemblance to a Cecil B. De Mille set.” (Speer, 159).

[8] To illustrate the fraudulence or betrayal Speer’s architecture admits, the “Cecil B. De Mille” quote cited above should be coupled with these: “To this day I find it strange that a nation can have so right a sense of what is to come, so much so that all the massive propaganda by the government does not banish this feeling.”; “Had I been able to think the matter out consistently, I ought to have argued further that my designs… were following the pattern of the Late Empire and forecasting the end of the regime” (Speer, 147, 160).

[9] “If she was cute—and if anything could be believed, she was—then we were not… The Thing to fear was the Thing that made her beautiful, and not us.” (Morrison, 74). I include the last part of this quote because I think it emphasizes, more than the first part, the cowering present in an act of confession.

[10] “Oh, Dinky… Oh sadness of sadness. Grotesquerie. It was revolting.” (Kramer, 349). I take this to be the summation of Fred’s reasons for falling out of love with Dinky; the “sadness” is the love that could’ve been, the “grotesquerie” is the reason it will never be—Dinky’s public fist-fucking.

[11] I am construing Claudia’s affirmation that Maureen’s insult is true to mean that Claudia, herself, concludes she, herself, is ugly.

[12] This phrase can be replaced with ‘an intention to let its own intentions be left uncovered’.

[13] “The picture that shows the peasant shoes… [makes] …unconcealment as such happen in regard to beings as a whole. The more simply and essentially the shoes are engrossed in their essence, the more directly and engagingly do all beings attain a greater degree of being along with them. That is how self-concealing Being is cleared. Light of this kind joins its shining to and into the work. This shining, joined in the work, is the beautiful. Beauty is one way in which truth essentially occurs as unconcealment.” (Heidegger, 181).

Gracián, Baltasar. The Art of Worldly Wisdom. 1647. Trans. Joseph Jacobs. Boston: Shambhala, 2006. Print.

Heidegger, Martin. "The Origin of the Work of Art." 1971. Trans. Albert Hofstadter. Ed. David Farrell Krell. Basic Writings. 1977. By Martin Heidegger. Ed. David Farrell Krell. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. 140-212. Print.

Kramer, Larry. Faggots. New York: Grove, 1978. Print.

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. 1970. New York: Vintage International, 2007. Print.

Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Trans. Richard Winston and Clara Winston. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970. Print.

Voltaire. "Philosophical Dictionary: Selections." Trans. H. I. Woolf. Ed. Ben Ray Redman. The Portable Voltaire. By Voltaire. Ed. Ben Ray Redman. New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1977. 53-217. Print.