Bal 2008

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Bal, Mieke. Loving Yusuf: Conceptual Travels from Past to Present. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

"I contend it is in the questions, not in the texts as hard core, that we must understand the texts that traditions have managed to save for us. Yet our questions are, in turn, culturally framed, embedded in ways of thinking and common conceptions of social life. Reading is establishing a meaningful connection between these relatively stable texts and the varying, historically shifting meanings they generate." (4)

"it is from within our own conceptions that we wonder and ask why characters do or say what they do. These frames and conceptions change all the time, whereas the texts as artifacts retain more—although by no means total—stability." (5)

"What I resist, therefore, is the reasoning that a “why” question is anchored in the text whenever there is something considered enigmatic “in” a text, something the reader has to contend with: a seeming contradiction, a missing detail, an unexpected form. " (5)

"This asking of “why questions” of the text is never fi nished, because readers move on with the times and hence meanings keep sliding along. " (5)

"There are two paces at work— the long-term continuity of the artifact’s existence and availability on the one hand and the faster pace of changing communities of readers on the other. Between these two paces the inevitable discrepancies defi ne what has been called “cultural memory.” To put it simply, cultural memory is the gap—sometimes abyss— between the words on the page and the meanings" (5)

"Instead of relying exclusively on scholarly skills and bodies of knowledge, I seek to establish a dialogue in which my memories are as seriously involved as the memories that, I presume, have fi ltered into the most scholarly of exegeses. How can I be so bold?" (11)

"This is how personal memories fi t into cultural memory: the fi gures of authority in the present draw on the authority of the past processes of canonization. "(11)

"hese processes of enlivening the artifacts at the expense of their cultural stability are framed and enabled by claims to the truth, equally culturally framed, in their rhetoric and their contents alike." (16)

"The texts of the various canons—religious, literary, artistic—that make up pluralized public culture can be taken seriously only, I argue, when taken together, in dialogue. Only then can they exceed their canonical fi xity and come to life again, even if that life plays itself out against the setting of a particular centripetal canon." (17)

"Combining insights and associations borne by surprise with recollections borne by cultural memory, I collect fragments of different “versions” without pretending to make them cohere. I bring concepts from cultural analysis to bear on those fragments." (25)

"In the kind of literalism I am seeking to advocate, the signifi er is taken seriously, not only for the nuances or shades it puts forward, and to which I recommend remaining attentive across cultural time and place, but also as mobile, shifting and slipping along, yet stable in its “letter.”" (27)

"I submit that anachronism is actually useful, as some contemporary art historians argue, but on the condition that it be used as overt anachronism, as a kind of temporal metaphor (Wesseling and Zwijnenberg 2007 )." (48)

"ny separation of ethics from aesthetics is subject to doubt. Important as it is to “protect” art from political appropriation and censorship, I resist generalizing on their relationship. The point, for me as a feminist inclined to activism, is to read aesthetically and politically in the same act, not to claim that the qualitative merits can be confl ated. Art can be artistically successful and politically fraught—it happens all the time. Still, I do not consider this possibility a reason for ethical indifference." (62)

"literalism is not a form of fundamentalism but a tool to hold the latter in check. Against words as weapons, literalism liberates words from their rigid imprisonment in fundamentalist selective hostility. It turns them into words again—conveyers of ever-shifting meanings, sustained by the fantasies of porous subjects. " (75)

"If we are to get acquainted with texts from contexts we don’t (yet) know, we read the book unprepared, untrained, and unknowing of the “context” that responsible readers are alleged to bring to their acts of reading. Making explicit who the “we” is in the preceding sentences is imperative—say Western academics—even if this collectivity feels uneasy as it is crossed over and out by others, such as Europeans, women, those worried about the current state of the world, and many more. In this chapter, the issue of knowledge or the lack of it, ignorance, must be a subtext. Without defensiveness but in need of endorsing responsibility, I aim to turn ignorance into a tool, useful if acknowledged, devastating if repressed." (119)

"Reading the Joseph sura with ignorance offers innumerable opportunities to address the critical questions of the positioned comparative cultural analysis I am exploring here, and to turn refl ection on them into a productive, constructive activity." (134)

PREPOSTEROUS historiography

  • "In alignment with intercultural relationality, we could call it intertemporal . Such a term reminds us of the thick mutuality of relation, as opposed to a lean linearity of progress." (152)

"We have learned from the Qur’anic perspective, in chapter 6 , that the sign must remain “whole”—that is, it must retain the traces of its past meanings even if the mobility leads to a counter-meaning. In chapter 7 , Rembrandt’s paintings explained why this is important. Spinoza’s vision of subjectivity as porous and the imagination as social fl eshed out this semiotic principle. To recapitulate: the sign must not be split into signifi er and signifi ed that each goes its own way, for if this split is radical the former without the latter is empty, form only, and the latter risks escaping from underneath the signifi er and becoming myth, doxa, prejudice, falsity. Literalism protects the sign from such splitting, while fundamentalism neglects the sign as alive and kills it into the status of empty shell for a rigidifi ed meaning." (164)

"from originating, founding act performed by a willing, intentional subject, art and literature’s performativity becomes an instance of an endless process of repetition; a repetition that involves similarity and difference and that therefore both relativizes and enables social change and subjects’ interventions—in other words, agency. In collaboration with representation and institutional power, this agency produces, shapes, perpetuates, but also potentially transforms what I call here literary or artistic identity. This brings me to the last aspect of literary identity: the framing that produces it and that at the same time it constitutes. It provides frames of reference through which subjects can make sense—of the world, their lives, and the literature they read." (217-8)

"ontext, or rather, the self-evident, nonconceptual kind of data referred to as “context,” is often invoked for the interpretation of cultural artifacts such as artworks in order to uncover their meaning. In effect, though, its deployment serves to confuse explaining with interpreting , and frequently origin with articulation (Pavel 1984 ). With this confusion, and in any endeavor of an interpretive, analytical nature, a whole range of presuppositions becomes important, whereby the term context loses both its specifi city and its grounding. The perspective becomes unacknowledgedly deterministic. The unavowed motivation for the interpretation—indeed, the analytical passion—becomes entangled in a confl ation of origin, cause, and intention. And this confl ation may well be the most important damaging frame in the humanities." (218) -- here, fundamentalism insinuates itself as a normal mode of reading

"I contend that if the confusion and the passion are cleared away, the human scientist with interdisciplinary interests can pursue a much more exciting project, an analytical interpretation that avoids three sterile activities (paraphrases, projection, and paradigmatic confinement) and that opens up a practice of cultural analysis that endorses its function as cultural mediation.” (219)

“Context is primarily a noun that refers to something static. It is a ‘thing’ a collection data whose factuality is not in doubt once its sources are deemed reliable. Data means ‘given’ as if context brings its own meanings, fixed and unquestionable. The sign is broken, the signifier made rigid, the meaning selectively and defensively given authority. The need to interpret these data, mostly acknowledged only once the need arises, is too easily overlooked. Contextualism shares this property with fundamentalism. In contrast, framing is an act. The act of framing produces an event. This verb form, as important as the noun that indicates its product, is primarily an activity. Hence it is performed by an agent who is responsible and accountable for his or her acts. This may be perceived as a burden by some — the scholar, after all, may become subject to what can be perceived as af orm of policing — but to me this accountability is also liberating. It is, moreover, intellectually enriching, as it implies the necessity of self-reflection.” (219)

unstable position of knowledge — “this might seem to lead to an epistemic aporia, since knowledge itself loses its fixed grounding. But a full endorsement of this instability can also produce a different kind of grounding, a grounding of a practical kind. Thus the case I present here, allegorically, begins and ends with a material practice. That practice, in turn reaches out to cultural analysis, claiming to participate fully in the academic practices whose object it would otherwise powerlessly remain. Here the object, an image always miss-en-scene within itself as well as within its environment is put under pressure; its meaning is multiplied, its material existence is set up as troubled.” (220)