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Jacques Ranciere

The present article will not seek to situate a Deleuzian aesthetics within a general framework that would be Deleuze's thought. The reason for this is simple: I do not quite know what Deleuze's thought is; I am still looking for it. His so-called aesthetic texts are, for me, a means of approaching it. Approaching, however, is an improper term. Understanding a thinker does not amount to coinciding with his center. On the contrary, to understand a thinker is to displace him, to lead him on a trajectory where his articulations come undone and leave room for play. Only then is it possible to de-fig­ ure [de-figurerj1 his thought in order to refigure it differently, to step outside of the constraints of his words and express his thought in that foreign language that Deleuze, after Proust, made the task of the writer. Here, aesthetics will be a means of loosening that Deleuzian tangle, which leaves so little room for the irruption of another lan­ guage, in order to take him on the trajectory of a question. The present article will not seek to situate Deleuze's dis­ course on art within the framework of aesthetics understood as a discipline having its own objects, methods and schools. For me, the term aesthetics does not refer to a discipline. It does not designate a branch of philosophy or a knowledge of works of art. Aesthetics is an idea of thought, a mode of thought that unfolds about works of art, taking them as witnesses to a question: a question that bears
Qui Parle, Vol. 14, No.2 Spring/Summer 2004

I will take as my point of departure two Deleuzian formula­ tions whose distance from one another seems to amply fix the apparently antagonistic poles of Deleuze's thought on the work of art. It is the object that is before us.2 JACQUES RANCIERE on the sensible and on the power that inhabits the sensible prior to thought. the first statement expresses what seems to be the requisite of any aesthetics understood as discourse on art: the work of art has a specific mode of being. 5). Deleuze seems to bring us face to face with the work of art in the form of a "here is what there is" ["voila ce qu'il y a"]. . The surface . of aesthetics. Flaubert's novel about nothing that rests on the sheer force of style. etc. Accordingly."3 At first glance. A round area. of parts and their assemblage.that is to say. but the only law of creation is that the compound must stand up on its own. on the flat and autonomous surface of the work of art. or the flat surface of colored blotches."2 The sec­ ond appears in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation: "With paint­ ing. hysteria becomes art. The exem­ plary description of what one of Bacon's paintings presents to the spectator begins in this way: "A round area often delimits the place where the person . I will therefore attempt to show how the objects and modes of Deleuze's descriptions and conceptualizations lead us toward the center of what remains to be thought under this name. this is how Deleuze describes "what there is" [lice qu'il ya"] in front of seated" (FB. The work of art is such that it stands up on its own. already bicentennial and still so obscure. Or rather. And "what there is" may be explained in the terms of a certain grammar of forms. the Figure . as Maurice Denis defines painting. circles. The first statement is found in What is Philosophy?: "The work of art is a being of sensation and nothing else: it exists in itself. an oval area. that does not need us. plastic procedures. The work of art can therefore be tragedy as Aristotle defines it. . . the calm ideal of the Greek statue in Hegel's work. a well­ delimited and characterized space. hysteria becomes painting. but persists by virtue of its own unifying law of form and matter. as the unthought in thought. The artist creates blocks of percepts and affects. with the painter.

Yet. The surface of Bacon's painting is thus defined as a specific combination of the following forms: Riegl's haptic Egyptian space disorganized by the identification of its con­ tour with Worringer's northern line. Hysteria is precisely the illness that opposes itself to the process of creating the work of art. the field of color that functions as background. A formula for the painting can thereby be defined in a gener­ al grammar of forms. it acted inward. and the rounded form or contour that at once unites and separates them. and while moving inward. According to Riegl. however. confrontation. changes direction.IS THERE A DELEUZIAN AESTHETICS? 3 of Bacon's painting may be described as the simple combination of two forms. the coexistence on the surface of the canvas of the figure." but there is an entire tradition of thought that does not consider hysteria to be just any illness. The problem faced is thus one of defining a space that would have haptic planarity. Instead of acting outward. This inorganic line disorganizes the essentializing contour. Here I am thinking of what Flaubert said of his Saint Antoine: the power that should have shaped the work of art like a block of marble reversed its direction. but that would be freed from this essentializ­ ing function. . why would this arrangement of planes and lines defined by stylistiC criteria take the name of a mental ill­ ness: hysteria? I say "mental illness. First and foremost. and deforma­ tion of other elements. it plunges it into the world of the acciden­ tal by rendering it a space of tension. it deliquesced. In Bacon's work. the line that curves in. fades. In that space. is the reestablishment of a haptic space: a space connecting sight and touch in a single plane. both identified by the historians and theoreticians of art. This problem is formally resolved by an operation focusing on the contour. it is this space that characterizes the Egyptian bas-relief. that prevents the work of art from existing as an autonomous entity. the contour has the function of essentializing the figure that it encir­ cles. breaks. while retaining imprisoned within the artist's body the powers that should objectify the work of art and make it autonomous. Deleuze identifies the contour with another line that adheres to the logic of another form: Worringer's northern Gothic line.

a well-defined function. How then can the artistic maxim according to which the work of art must "stand up on its own" [lise tenir en soi"] be identified with hysteria? let's return to the first lines of Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation for our answer. First. in fact. "To hystericize" the work of art. and in the human organism in particular. not in order to essentialize it like an Egyptian contour. but in order to prevent it from coming into contact with the other figures. from becoming an element in a story. It is the nervous effusion or pas­ sion that opposes the athletic and sculptural power of muscles. It is the system or linked sequence of actions. By its resemblance it makes recognizable some­ thing that exists outside of it. There are also the connections maintained by the figure to other figures on the very surface of the painting. That is to say that the work's techne is in the image of nature. And there are two ways of becoming an element in a story. the oval. They isolate the figure. Second. in so far as it is an organism. means two things. It is in this way that hysteria is precisely the anti-work. in fact. The work of art. means undo- . The two ways of becoming an element in a story actually define two different aspects of a single model: Aristotle's represen­ tative model as it was established in his Poetics. not in order to spiritualize it like the Byzantine mandrel. nature as the power of the work against nature as the model of figuration. is alive. in the image of the power that finds its fulfillment in the living organism in gen­ eral. There is the external relationship of resemblance. the arrangement of parts that order themselves according to a well­ defined model: the functional arrangement of the parts of an organ­ ism. The classical model of the autonomous work of art consists in dissociating the Aristotelian model in order to play the work's organic consistence against its mimetic dependence.4 JACQUES RANCIERE It flowed within Flaubert like a nervous malady. The rounded form. or make it out of hysteria. A ver­ itable liberation of the work thus presupposes the destruction of this organicity that is the second principle of representation. the parallelepiped have. Representation. the relationship of the figure represented to what it represents. the work of art is the action of representing. it means that the work of·art is the imi­ tation of an action.

The elements of the previous­ ly evoked formal grammar in fact constitute the sickness of a nature. It is the place of combat between painting and figuration. However. to disorganize itself. the point is not to replace this organic aesthetics with a negative aes­ thetics of the sublime or the inferiority of the sensible to the Idea. a track. Deleuze just as well carefully twists the elements of the "formal code" in order to organize this ring. Even the Gothic line had a twofold function. It conveyed an anguish and a disorder. on the contrary. via the description of the work of art. They designate the scene of combat or crisis. Consider the manner in which he changes the meaning ofWorringer's analysis. the non-human. the background field of color advances the powers of chaos against the figure. the figure seeks to escape itself. to empty itself through its head so as to become a body with­ out organs and thereby return to non-organic life. is the status of thought in general. The pictorial work will conse­ quently have to be thought as an illness of organic nature and of the figuration that imitates its power. It explicit­ ly opposes an organic aesthetics of the beautiful. rather. the power of becoming-animal that undoes the human figure. where the line was ideality. the line becomes the power of chaos that carries away all form. The "hysteria" of the work of art defines the task of de-figura­ tion particular to the work within a twofold opposition.IS THERE A DELEUZIAN AESTHETICS? 5 ing that organicity that is latent in the very definition of the "autonomous" work of art. Within the field's interior. In Deleuze's work. non-organic forces. the catastrophe of the figurative space. but the flow within the work of the figurative givens that the work must undo. the power of order. Dionysian hysteria: it is not the flow of the work's forces in the body of the artist. It engages what is shown by the other name Deleuze gives to the "hysterical" combat of de-figura- . The contour thereby encircles a closed field in the center of a twofold pressure: around it. but it also cor­ rected them by manifesting an ideal vital power. The Apollonian maxim "stand up on its own" is. the non-organic life of things that come to lash out at the figure. and lead to its disintegration. a gymnast's floor. It means rendering ill that nature which has organic autonomy as its telos. What this combat engages. Bacon's contour is thus a ring.

the true measure is called the Idea. Now. The task of art is to undo the world of figuration or of doxa. No more than the soul in Plato. it seems to me impossible not to hear here the echo of another discourse on justice and its locus. Doxa is the justice that the sensible administers to itself in the present order of things. What are "figurative givens" or doxai? They are the meaningful sensory-motor delimitation of the perceptual world as the human animal organizes it when it makes itself the center of the world. on every screen. The work of art administers justice.6 JACQUESRANCrnRE tion: justice. It amounts to telling its true mea­ sure. but by cliches. sweep away all that is already on the canvas. in order to reach the place from which the sensible receives its measure. To justice itself. into the center from which it delimits images of the world. figuration. The fifth chapter of Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation accordingly describes the end of the movement by which the fig­ ure escapes toward the molecular structure of matter: "It is this extreme point that will have to be reached. justice also has ene­ mies: doxa. What does admin­ istering justice amount to in Deleuze as well as in Plato? One may answer: to the sensible as such. such as empires organize them. he gives a new name: he calls it desert. a painter's canvas is not a blank slate waiting for something to fill it. empires considered as collective actualizations of the subject's imperialism. when it transforms its position of image among images into cogito. Even if the association between justice and the desert evokes first of all Holderlin's Antigone. and the idea has an enemy: doxai. I am referring to Plato and Book VII of The Republic. covered by the "figurative givens" ["donnees figuratives"]. not simply covered by the pictorial figurative codes. in order to give reign to a justice that will no longer be anything but Color or Light. It is therefore necessary to leave the cave. 25). In Plato's work. the world of shad­ ows on the wall. to depopulate that world. even if the sensible will vanish into it. The canvas is overpopulated. opinion. of the meaningful. and justice originates in a specific place. doxai. the sensible. a space that will no longer be anything but the Sahara" (FB. to clear off the terrain. in Deleuze. of the credible. that is to say. doxa. The "figurative givens" are also the delimitation of the visible. to decapitate .

the privileging of expressionism in a broad sense in Deleuzian pictorial aesthetics. the world of the Idea. Yet. is reached. In a sense. qua dispenser of justice. The theater of the work of art is consequently one of a movement restrained in its place. is reached." says Deleuze. the end of the work of art becomes the absence of the work of art. for him. To go toward justice is to go toward that which gives the true measure of the sensible. the book on Bacon is precisely a vast allegory for the task of producing the work of art." but the work of art would only be able to reach that point at the expense of annulling itself. of a tension and a sta­ tion . its the sense as well in which one speaks of the Stations of the Cross. It presents its telos. The work of art is a march into the desert. "This extreme point will have to be reached. And his judgment on the figure is linked to the figure's capac­ ity to become formula and effigy that simultaneously operates and allegorizes the movement of restrained flight. However. The work of art is the Way of the Cross of figuration that manifests the lashed figure as a dishonored its combat with the figurative givens. once the desert. to show art in the midst of making itself . Its hysteria is schizophrenia kept within the framework where it creates again and again the work of art and the allegory for the task of produc­ ing the work of art.IS TIIERE A DELEUZIAN AESTIIETICS? 7 those images in order to put in their place a Sahara. is the absence of the work of art. madness. for Deleuze. madness. what presents itself when the justice-administering desert. the work precisely retains in place the lashed figure that wants to slip away. is at once the formula for a transformation and its alle­ gory. in truth. "This extreme point will have to be reached. For Deleuze. Truth is the pure sensible. the end of the work of art. The fig­ ure. Yet.hysterically . serves to show and to allegorize the moment of metamorphosis. . the work of art is first and foremost allegory of the work of art. And. of course. truth is not an idea behind or above the sensible. and its restraint. The privilege granted to Bacon. The work of art is a station on the way to a conversion. the unconditioned sensible that opposes the "ideas" of doxa. It is the unconditioned sensible that is called jus­ tice or desert.

evades this crossing to the other side that engulfs the beautiful edifice of the movement-image and the well-con­ structed fable. the more it becomes an allegory of itself. the one who has seen the too strong. who becomes mad in the eyes of the world that she deserts for the work­ ers and prostitutes. what does "aesthetics" mean. the justice of the desert. Everything happens as if the specific purpose of art is to allegorize the crossing toward the true in the sen­ sible. the Aristotelian. of Antigone. played by Vera Miles. Everything happens as if the more art approaches its own truth. of petrifaction and interment. unbearable vision. Rossellini takes the leap and makes the kind of cin­ ema that this face calls for. the land­ scape before man. The whole power of the effigy rests in the words that Irene pronounces while returning from the factory: "I thought I saw the condemned. Yet. precisely that which man cannot describe. It is possible to bring back his critique of figuration and of organicity to the meaning of aesthetics. he draws for us a face that allegorizes what it sig­ nifies: the disjunction. in the sudden appear- . how does Deleuze mark this transition? By making Irene an allegorical effigy. and the grande bourgeoise in Europa 51. and who will henceforth never be in harmony with the world of representation. toward the pure spiritual: the landscape that sees. Only Hitchcock. two female faces. Deleuze does not show us the time-image. two "madwomen": the face of the woman in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man. Both faces withdraw from the universe of doxa and justice. Yet. specifically the way in which the limit of the movement-image and the genesis of the time-image are emblematized in two effigies. the disaccord of the sensible givens. and the face of Irene in Rossellini's Europa 51. played by Ingrid Bergman. and the more the interpreta­ tion of it becomes allegorical.8 JACQUES RANCIERE Deleuze's books on cinema may be evoked here. At this point it is possible to situate Deleuze's thought within the destiny of aesthetics as a figure of thought. They go toward the other justice." She thereby becomes the allegory of the artist: the one who has gone to the desert. Both faces testi­ fy to the transition from doxa to desert: the wife of the wrong man who sinks into schizophrenia following the unjust inculpation of her husband.

The techne is a production regulated by that other production that is the phusis. and is used without problem to designate the theory of fine arts. and work of art. drowns the work of art in a thought about the sensible. Yet. a product that equates itself with the non­ product. a logos. While the col­ lapse of the norms of representation opens in principle the reign of the work of art and its power. Aesthetics makes the work of art into the intermittent manifestation of the power of a contradictory spirit. Poetics was the mode of truth governing works of art in the universe of rep­ resentation. it indicates first and foremost the collapse of poetics. The word is not an anachronism or an impropriety. In contrast to poetics. the movement that brings about life in an organ­ ism. that is and is not thought. privileging the affect. bearing the mark of a past epoch: the time of Burke and Hume in which works of art were explained by an empirical psychology of sensation. He declares the word clearly incorrect. Kant's theory of genius . The universe of representation is governed by the dual impulse of the mimetic principle evoked earlier: the work of art produces a resemblance. organism. and an affect that belongs to the receiver or spectator. Still. consciousness that equates itself with the unconscious. the word entered into use. but also. that is a thought become other than itself. the presence within the sensible of a power that exceeds its normal regime.IS THERE A DELEUZIAN AESTHETICS? 9 ance of that notion. the common power of life. even by its very name. regardless of its origin. a "living beauty" ["un beau vivant"]. Whence the paradox that seems originally to mark aesthetics. this is not the point at stake here. the phusis. as it was effectuated between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century? Nega­ tively. What aesthetics indicates is a change in perspective: a change occurring when thought about the work of art no longer refers to an idea of the rules of its production. aesthetics no longer places the work of art at the center. but is subsumed under other things: the idea of a particular sensi­ ble form. It is known how Hegel settles it at the beginning of his Lectures on Aesthetics. subjective feelings. aesthetics. but the aistheton. the work of art is itself a dynam­ ic resemblance in so far as it constitutes an organism. The work's techne extends nature.

or the idea that there is a zone of the sensible that distinguishes itself from the ordinary laws of the sensible universe.10 JACQUES RANCIERE defines it as a power that cannot account for what it produces. It is this other power . From what has been seen. this power in the sensible of a form of thought that does not think may be understood according to two alternative schemas. coex­ tensive with the sensible. so that it belongs to thought. of thought within that which does not think. that makes it so that the sensible is more than the sensible. The work of art is a sensible form sep­ arated from the ordinary connections of the sensible that hence­ forth has value as a manifestation of the spirit. the power of the spirit as a flame that equally illuminates and burns everything. Schelling's System of Transcendental Idealism fixes the paradigm of the product that renders the conscious and unconscious equiva­ lent. from thought already present within the very texture of things. The second schema on the other hand seizes the spirit at that point of arrest where the image becomes . Aesthetics is the mode of thought that submits the consideration of works of art to the idea of this heterogeneous power. the "spiritual. or the smile of the God of stone. or as Deleuze named it. and rising toward even more explicit forms of manifestation. Thought is embodied. a product that equates itself with the non-product. inscribed in the strata of rock or shell. It is the Romantic model of thought that goes from stone and desert to the spirit. Aesthetics is born as a mode of thought when the work of art is subsumed under the category of a greater. a pathos that belongs to logos.the power of that which. but thought in a singular regime: a thought other than itself. but the spirit in so far as it does not know itself." It is impossible to give it determin ations more precise than the follow­ ing: the idea of a zone of the sensible qualified by the action of a heterogeneous power that changes its regime. Hegel makes the work of art a station of the spirit outside of itself. heterogeneous form of the sensible. knows without knowing . The first highlights the immanence of logos in pathos. lets itself be read in the sensible.that may be named the spirit. where the spirit is presented as the vitality of the canvas. consciousness that equates itself with the unconscious. and testifies to the presence of anoth­ er power.

The death of art marks the moment when the spirit no longer needs to present itself to itself in external forms of representation.IS THERE A DELEUZlAN AESTHETICS? 11 petrified and returns the spirit to its desert. where it acquires its adequate sensible figure. . As much as Hegelian aesthetics tried to mark its distance from the Romantic geology of the spirit. The question of an aesthetic modernity. that of art after the death of art. the pathic beneath the logical. the spirit that loses itself in exteriority. It emphasizes the imma­ nence of pathos in logos. those machines in the image of the world. What does it become then? It becomes an image of the world. already in the time of Holderlin." the bottom­ lessness. the bottomlessness of the undifferentiated. Aesthetics is the history of the various forms in which the space of artistic representation has coincided with the space of the spirit's presentation of itself to itself in the sensible. the unconscious. render the spiritual the inverse of the classical power of incarnation and individualization. The destiny of the work of art is then suspended from the other figure of the "spiritual": the immanence in thought of an element that does not think. those machines called media or television. it did not fail to illustrate the older movement in an exemplary manner: there the work of art is a station of the spirit outside of itself. but that in losing itself makes the success of the work. make the work of art the reconquest of the spiritual lost in this movement. the pathic at its point of rest. which made Apollo. Plato's doxa or Flaubert's stupidity [betisej. The aesthet­ ic program of art will thus mean: reverse the direction of the spirit that goes from art to doxa. non­ individual life. the immanence in thought of an element that does not think: Schopenhauer's "thing in itself. the god of journalists. of a-pathy [d'a-pathie]. is thus formulated in terms of an affirmation of the power of artistic presentation against representative doxa. the power of the spirit that equates itself with its other .under the conditions of a race against those doxa machines. meanwhile passing by the acme of Greek art. to the poem that takes it to the limit of all sensible presentation.nature. the undifferentiated or the obscure in pre-individual life. the dust of atoms or grains of sand. mutism . from the pyramid that seeks vainly to contain it.

The Proustian book is the construction of an organic plot that encloses moments of epiphany : a fable of the discovery of truth of truth thought according to the modern model of truth fixed once and for all by H6lderlin. The process of de-figuration analyzed by Deleuze in Bacon's painting is identical to Flaubert's clearing of the terrain. the great indifferent tide that displaces and mixes atoms. line after line. which undoes. but certainly does not write. to that moment when two worlds reunite and all reference points shatter. thought or sentiment.12 JACQUES RANCrERE The project of equating the power of the work of art with the power of a pure. The ideal book dreamed of by the young Proust is familiar: the book made of the substance of a few instants arranged in time. thus emerges in the form of a task or a combat. the grammatical conjunctions and semantic inferences that make up the ordinary substance of a story. of a truth of the pure sensible. truth as the evolution of error. of the sensible sensed by stones. landscapes or the moment of the day. pebble or grain of sand. a-signifying sensible. the world of the pure sensible. of the infinite. of the het­ erogeneous sensible in an Aristotelian poetics: the plot of change in knowledge and fortune that passes by peripeteia and recognition. It is the inclu­ sion of an aesthetic truth. This clearing of the terrain replaces one stupidity (the oversignification of doxa that adds up to nothing) with another stupidity: the a-signification of the void." of the substance of our most beautiful moments. trees. a fable constructed to elicit the same affect as the affect of the pure sensible. This clearing of the terrain has the pre­ cise purpose of equating the power of the phrase with the power of a sensibility that is no longer the sensibility of the man of represen­ tation. Proust links the power of the work of art to the experience of a sensible removed from its conditions. A book must be composed with the construction of an ana­ logic fable. the book made of "tastes of light. Flaubert's novel is the intentional construction of a nature that is identical to the uncreated nature that does not arise from any inten­ tion. but the sensibility of the contemplator become object of his own contemplation: foam. The problem is that a book is not written with this pathic sub­ stance. . In the same way. which may think. The modern work of art takes the figure of a paradoxical object.

"We search Proust's work in vain for platitudes on the work of art as an organic totality. but where this pathic element is itself included. It establishes itself in the zones where pity. the work of the age of an Aristotelico-Hegelian plot of truth as error evolved. he attempts to annul it. Yet. there remains one question: achieving the destiny of aesthetics."4 Deleuze tells us.the shattering of the world of representation . and a continuation of the continuation. We may search for them in vain but we will surely find them. the thought-tree or the thought-pebble. He wanted to know nothing of the evolution of error. on the loss of the entire world. rendering coherent the inco­ herent modern work. Deleuze's analysis is thus inscribed in the destiny of aesthet­ ics as a mode of thought. exceeding the schemas of the represen­ tative doxa. to render the modern work of art. it suf­ ficed for Deleuze to render the Proustian work coherent. coherent with itself. recuperated in a new type of organicity and logos. In sum. of the final reunion of sides and the equilibrium of arcs. which is emblematized in the representation of the work of art as combat. to construct the model of the Proustian anti-logos: the work of art made of assem­ bled pieces. Deleuze is faced with the modern work as the contradictory work where the pathic element. Deleuze wanted to know nothing of the insistent organicity of the Proustian schema. that is to say sympathy with non-individual life. He denounces this compromise. is this not destroying its very substance? Is it . borders on folly. He returns a second time to Proust as if to destroy what he left to subsist. as if it were neces­ sary to incessantly bring Proust back to the purity of an anti-organ­ ic model. because it gives his book a contin­ uation. of non-communicating boxes and sides. to reconstruct the modern work of art so that it obeys a single logic or anti-logic. in the destiny of the modern work of art tied to that pure sensible. has undone the order of doxa. His engagement with the Proustian cor­ pus is exemplary in this regard.IS THERE A DELEUZIAN AESTHETICS? 13 Proust's book presents this exemplary form that includes Schopen­ hauer's undertaking . He achieves the coherence of his anti-logical turn. Deleuze fulfilled the destiny of aesthetics by suspending the entire power of the work of art to the "pure" sensible. From there stems the combat with the work of art.

14 JACQUES RANCIERE not making it into a simple station on the way to a conversion. Proust et les signes (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. 2(03). Hereafter cited as FB. 45. What is Philosophy?. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell Gilles Deleuze. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Daniel W. 1994). trans. trans. . Smith (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1971). a simple allegory for the destiny of aesthetics? And wouldn't the para­ dox of this militant thought of immanence consist in incessantly bringing the substance of blocks of percepts and affects back to the interminable task of depicting the image of thought? Translated by Radmila Djordjevic Translator's note: de-figurer and de-figuration are translated as de-figure and de-fig­ uration (as opposed to disfigure and disfiguration) in order to preserve Ranciere's own hyphenation as well as his reference to the practice of figuration or figurative representation. Gilles Deleuze. Gilles Deleuze. 164. 2 3 4 (New York: Columbia University Press. 138.