O V E R T U R E / A P E R T U R E
Showboat 1988—The Remake
Sometimes politically engaged readers see in my work a decision
to advance formalism over historicism because its tendency is to
focus on events within the aesthetic work that interrupt the text’s
own modes of historicism: these are moments, gestures, phrases,
episodes, and narrated scenarios that shift the terms of realism
and enact “ways out” of historical embeddedness, with its narra-
tives of struggle, defeat, and survival.1 Its method has been called
“Benjaminian” too because these flashings up of alternativity can
be said to redirect historical energy toward what remains imma-
nent in experience, and I attend to the potential for living other-
wise that texts mainly make apprehensible viscerally by way of
formal shifts.2 Often, debates about formalism versus historicism
locate politically good work in historical contextualization while
casting formalism as merely a quietist or precious fantasy of the
artwork’s specialness or autonomy: but both sets of association
underdescribe the dynamics of contextualization and exemplifica-
tion that shape the analytic work a critical text can do.
The question should not be whether or not formalism can ad-
vance the analysis of history or power, as a realist analytic can
do, but whether or not it is possible not to be a formalist.3 Slavoj
Žižek’s ethics, for example, argues for an absolutely formalist
Previous Page Next Page