In this interview, J. Hillis Miller and Nidesh Lawtoo take one of the most influential concepts in Western aesthetics, mimēsis, as an Ariadne’s thread to retrace the major turns in Miller’s career and, by extension, to promote a re-turn of mimesis in literary theory and criticism. Complicating standard accounts of deconstruction and rhetorical reading as simply antimimetic, Miller acknowledges the centrality of this ancient concept to his intellectual development and to major turns in literary theory as well: his early engagement with New Criticism and phenomenology in the 1950s, his encounter with Jacques Derrida and deconstruction in the 1960s, his development of rhetorical reading in the company of Paul de Man in the 1970s and 1980s, and his engagement with ethics and community in 1990s and 2000s, stretching to include his most recent critical reflections on contemporary US politics and the new media that disseminate it. In the process, this interview reveals how mimēsis functions as a protean concept, or mime, that under different conceptual masks is constantly at play in Miller’s dialogic relation with criticism and theory, old and new. Staging a dialogue, Miller and Lawtoo join forces to show that this often marginalized literary-philosophical concept takes center stage in the political, ethical, scientific, and technological transformations that cast a shadow on present and future generations.
The Critic and the Mime: J. Hillis Miller in Dialogue with Nidesh Lawtoo
Nidesh Lawtoo is assistant professor of philosophy and English at KU Leuven. He is the author of The Phantom of the Ego (2013), Conrad’s Shadow (2016), and (New) Fascism (2019) and is the principle investigator of a project titled “Homo Mimeticus: Theory and Criticism,” funded by the European Research Council.
Nidesh Lawtoo; The Critic and the Mime: J. Hillis Miller in Dialogue with Nidesh Lawtoo. the minnesota review 1 November 2020; 2020 (95): 93–119. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00265667-8623756
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