Presence: Philosophy, History, and Cultural Theory for the Twenty-First Century

Ranjan Ghosh
Ethan Kleinberg
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The philosophy of "presence" seeks to challenge current understandings of meaning and understanding. One can trace its origins back to Vico, Dilthey, and Heidegger, though its more immediate exponents include Jean-Luc Nancy, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, and such contemporary philosophers of history as Frank Ankersmit and Eelco Runia. The theoretical paradigm of presence conveys how the past is literally with us in the present in significant and material ways: Things we cannot touch nonetheless touch us. This makes presence a post-linguistic or post-discursive theory that challenges current understandings of "meaning" and "interpretation."Presenceprovides an overview of the concept and surveys both its weaknesses and its possible uses.

    In this book, Ethan Kleinberg and Ranjan Ghosh bring together an interdisciplinary group of contributors to explore the possibilities and limitations of presence from a variety of perspectives-history, sociology, literature, cultural theory, media studies, photography, memory, and political theory. The book features critical engagements with the presence paradigm within intellectual history, literary criticism, and the philosophy of history. In three original case studies, presence illuminates the relationships among photography, the past, memory, and the Other. What these diverse but overlapping essays have in common is a shared commitment to investigate the attempt to reconnect meaning with something "real" and to push the paradigm of presence beyond its current uses. The volume is thus an important intervention in the most fundamental debates within the humanities today.

    Contributors:Bill Ashcroft, University of New South Wales; Mark Bevir, University of California, Berkeley; Susan A. Crane, University of Arizona; Ranjan Ghosh, University of North Bengal; Suman Gupta, Open University Ethan Kleinberg, Wesleyan University; John Michael, University of Rochester; Vincent P. Pecora, University of Utah; Roger I. Simon.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6920-6
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. 1-7)
    Ethan Kleinberg

    This volume seeks to investigate the theoretical paradigm known as “presence.” The odd and wonderful thing about the philosophy of “presence” is that it attempts to understand, or at least convey, the ways that the past is literally with us in the present in significant and material ways. It is a turn away from the seemingly endless interpretations manufactured by “theory” and a return to a relationship with the past predicated on our unmediated access to actual things that we can feel and touch and that bring us into contact with the past. There are differing ideas at play as...

  4. 1 Presence in Absentia
    (pp. 8-25)
    Ethan Kleinberg

    “Marley was dead: to begin with.”¹ So opens Dickens’s classic tale of Christmas redemption, and it is with the ghost of Jacob Marley that I want to begin this exploration of the concept of “presence” in relation to the project of history. Dickens’s point is that if time were not out of joint, if Marley was not dead and we were not absolutely sure of his ghostly, spectral, and immaterial nature, then “nothing wonderful” could come of the story. To be sure, Marley is not the only ghost in Dickens’sA Christmas Carolbut the other three have a strikingly...

  5. 2 Be Here Now: Mimesis and the History of Representation
    (pp. 26-44)
    Vincent P. Pecora

    The idea that thinking about things—analyzing them, interpreting them, finding meaning in them, discovering whether they formed what G. E. Moore (following Aristotle and G. W. F. Hegel) named “organic [that is, complex and integrated] wholes” rather than just shapeless heaps, and generally looking for the relationship between “particulars” and “universals”—the idea that what we call “thinking” in such fashion should represent a signal failure of modernity is one of the grand motifs that defines modernity itself.¹ This idea also defines just about everything we might want to call the prerational (or what Martin Heidegger found in the...

  6. 3 Meaning, Truth, and Phenomenology
    (pp. 45-61)
    Mark Bevir

    Jacques Derrida rejects the Western philosophical tradition as logocentric. It is a discourse of reason centered on a misplaced faith in presence. Derrida argues in particular that neither meanings nor truths are simply present to consciousness. He suggests all concepts are metaphors haunted by absent others, and all consciousness deploys such metaphors, so we cannot have access to brute facts. Derrida’s rejection of logocentrism precludes his offering a set of doctrines defended using the very discourse of reason he rejects. Often he conveys his views through deconstructive readings of other philosophers. He develops his view of meaning through a reading...

  7. 4 Of Photographs, Puns, and Presence
    (pp. 62-78)
    Susan A. Crane

    What does it mean to be in the presence of a photograph? Or, to restate it in a way that amplifies the complex potential of the question: What does it mean to recognize that one is fully present in the presence of a presented photograph? Some readers proofread compulsively; I do that, but I also hear heteroglossia impulsively, and I tend not to resist the intrusions because they prompt creative thinking.¹ In English, “present” is a heteronym: a multivalent term, which, although native speakers are unlikely to use it inappropriately, opens up wordplay which is also not irrelevant to a...

  8. 5 The Public Rendition of Images Médusées: Exhibiting Souvenir Photographs Taken at Lynchings in America
    (pp. 79-102)
    Roger I. Simon

    In a speech at Fisk University, James Allen offered the following reflections on his decision to make available for public exhibition the collection of lynching photographs and picture postcards he and John Littlefield had accumulated over a twenty-year period: “For every victim that lies pasted in some racist family’s photo album … or stored in a trunk with grandma and grandpa’s Klan robe, or still pinned to the wall of a service station in some holdout sorry-ass little town—if we can acquire and place their photos in an accurate, respectful context, identify and record them for the first time,...

  9. 6 The Presence of Immigrants, or Why Mexicans and Arabs Look Alike
    (pp. 103-121)
    John Michael

    Nothing seemed more in the news in 2011 than walls. Walls go up in Arizona, they come down—for a moment at least—in Gaza. They divide Israel from the West Bank (while redefining significant areas of Palestinian territory) and they seem destined to play a part in the future of Iraq where partition seems one possible solution to ongoing and shifting divisions among ethnic and religious groups. Though Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht argues inThe Production of Presencethat those who study culture and literature have been too concerned with meaning and not enough with presence, the implications of his...

  10. 7 Transcultural Presence
    (pp. 122-143)
    Bill Ashcroft

    The theory of presence may be one of the most exciting interventions in the humanities in a long time since it forces us to inspect something we normally accept without question: the centrality of interpretation. Interpretation has becomethedominant feature of all the humanities, even history, and it has moved, since the appearance of quantum mechanics, into a central place in science as well. The discussion of “presence” has been firmly focused on the aesthetic encounter—an encounter producing a “meaning” beyond interpretation. But it may be a feature of other encounters in which “understanding” is reached outside of...

  11. 8 “It Disturbs Me with a Presence”: Hindu History and What Meaning Cannot Convey
    (pp. 144-159)
    Ranjan Ghosh

    Presence is a state of prenarration; it is also implicated in postnarration. It is caught in the interstices of historical narration; it is an active resident in a prison house of historical representation. It challenges and questions the limits of representation in a variety of discourses.

    All forms of representation bear the promise of a presence mothered by an absence. This absence can be conscious when the subject chooses to put something at the other end of the line or, without an alarm to the subject, the absence can simmer unwarily in the backyard and then ambush with a meaning...

  12. 9 The Presence and Conceptualization of Contemporary Protesting Crowds
    (pp. 160-185)
    Suman Gupta

    Conventionally, registering the physical presence of a crowd and conceptualizing it have been aspects of a single ontological engagement. Registering the presence of a crowd would consist in apprehending its density or shape, its occupancy of a place and time, the composition of its elements, its vociferousness and dynamism. The terms in which the materiality of a specifically located crowd is thus grasped would, in the selfsame move, lead into conceptualizing its broader place in the world: charting its psychological and political character, its historical agency and effect, its aesthetic resonance, the frames of representation it is amenable to; and...

  13. Epilogue: Presence Continuous
    (pp. 186-198)
    Ranjan Ghosh

    Is presence a “surplus”? A pregnant silence that is always betraying and betrayed, a silence in attendance on the “said,” sparking a reverent intimacy with “saying”? The recital of a power, a project of thinking, that creates demands for more inventive modes of cultural and hermeneutic communication? An apparent reticence that is solicitous, stirring, and nontaciturn?

    Art and literature have, most often, had their origin and exfoliation in “surplus.” There is a certain joy in such engagements. Rabindranath Tagore points out that where “there is an element of the superfluous in our heart’s relationship with the world, Art has its...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 199-220)
  15. Contributors
    (pp. 221-222)