What makes an occurrence an interesting case, a scandalous case, an exemplary event? A groundbreaking special double issue of Critical Inquiry, named academe's most prestigious theory journal by the New York Times, looks at the "case" -- the standard unit in law, medicine, psychoanalysis, the humanities, the sciences, and popular culture. What makes a case ordinary, easily dealt with, or forgettable? What makes some cases, and not others, challenges to the way ordinary life or institutional systems usually proceed?
"Scandalous cases often organize debate in popular culture," says guest editor Lauren Berlant (University of Chicago). But how do we learn to use our judgment to discern what makes a case challenging to our usual sense of how things work? For example, is the recent emergence of the case of torture in U.S. political life an exception that ought to transform politics, ethics, and law? Or is there a story that makes it ordinary? Is the obesity epidemic a case of medical and insurance systems in disarray? A case of mass irresponsibility? Or a disease of workers who have no time to rest, except when they're eating? How have novels, poems, paintings, and films changed the ways we recognize a case as historically significant? Why do we not care when people sell hair or blood, but (often) reject a market in other body parts?
Not all cases are scandalous. The case is used in many different ways: to frame an instance (a crime, perhaps), to make an argument (documentary film), and to organize "singularities into exemplary, intelligible patterns," as Berlant writes in her introduction. "Case studies" identify the principles from which we cull conclusions about norms and their violation. Berlant writes: "When an event occurs out of which a case is constructed, it represents a situation in which people are compelled to take its history, seek out precedent, write down its narratives, adjudicate claims about it, make a judgment, and file it somewhere."
She continues: "Sometimes, though, an event more than perturbs; it disturbs, creates a louder noise that opens up a field of debate about expertise, modes of description, narration, evaluation, argument, and judgment."
The first volume of the double issue - "Making the Case" - examines professional practices and conventions, their histories and what they mean for how we organize knowledge, justice, and care. The second volume, "Missing Persons" - forthcoming in Fall 2007 - looks at the ways kinds of people are used as examples of things. For example, why do we assume the close-up increases what we know about someone rather than weirdly twists or distorts it? What if the history of the working class looked at servants and not industrial workers? What does a disrupted personality type such as in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder tell us about the ways we think of ordinary personality? Together these two issues offer a compelling introduction to an important emerging field of inquiry.
"This is why the topic of the case matters: the conventions of the case, of the fate of singularity in exemplifying narratives and expert commentary, are honed by debates about consensus sensibility," Berlant writes. "Any time is a good time for some reflection on that."
"Making the Case": Summer 2007
Peter Goodrich "The New Casuistry"
Diana Taylor "Double Blind: The Torture Case"
Nasser Hussain "Beyond Norm and Exception: Guantánamo"
Lauren Berlant "Slow Death (Sovereignty, Obesity, Lateral Agency"
Claire Pentecost "Appetites/Sovereignty"
John Forrester "On Kuhn's Case: Psychoanalysis and Paradigm"
Jessica Dubow "Case Interrupted: Benjamin, Sebald, and the Dialectical Image"
James Chandler "The Face of the Case: Conrad, Lord Jim, and the Sentimental Novel"
Christopher Nealon "The Poetic Case"
"Missing Persons": Fall 2007
Candace Vogler "The Moral of the Story"
Carolyn Steedman "A Boiling Copper and Some Arsenic: Servants, Childcare, and Class Consciousness in Late Eighteenth-Century England"
Ian Hacking "Our Neo-Cartesian Bodies in Parts"
Jennifer L. Fleissner "Obsessional Modernity: The "Institutionalization of Doubt""
Richard Neer "Godard Counts"
Carlo Ginzburg "Minutiae, Close-up, Microanalysis"
Rebecca Zorach "Love, Truth, Orthodoxy, Reticence; or, What EdgarWind Didn't See in Botticelli's Primavera"
Critical Inquiry is an interdisciplinary journal devoted to publishing the best critical thought in the arts and humanities. Combining a commitment to rigorous scholarship with a vital concern for dialogue and debate, the journal presents articles by eminent and emerging critics, scholars, and artists on a wide variety of issues central to contemporary criticism and culture. For more information, please visit www.journals.uchicago.edu/CI.