Monday, December 4, 2017

The critique of critique

  1. Introduction to Focus: Postcritique – pp. 3-4 – Matthew Mullins
  2. Postcritical Reading – pp. 4-5 – Rita Felski
  3. Fashion Conscious Phenomenon – pp. 5-6 – Bruce Robbins
  4. Critique, Theology and the Future of Cultural Criticism – pp. 7-8 – John-Mark Hart
  5. A Reader’s Love – pp. 8-9 – Julie Orlemanski
  6. Postcritique and Social Justice – pp. 9-10,– Elizabeth S. Anker
  7. Race and Interpretive Possibility – pp. 11-12 – Kinohi Nishikawa
  8. Reading is Seeing – pp. 12-13 – Sarah Tindal Kareem
  9. The Irony of Critique – pp. 14-15 – Daniel Rosenberg Nutters
  10. Critique Has Its Uses – pp. 15-18 – Lee Konstantinou
I find the title of #4 particularly provocative. Why? Because I think critique itself has pretensions toward a transcendental point of view on the world and so tends toward something like theology. Here's the first paragraph:
Over the last several decades, there have been two distinct turns towards theology within secular cultural theory. The first of these—which was mostly associated with postructuralist thinkers like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Jacques Lacan—began in the latter decades of the twentieth century and, with a few notable exceptions, took a combative stance towards Christianity. The project of these theorists was generally to interrogate the church and its theology, and to deconstruct the Christian residue within Western culture. The second turn towards theology, which is emerging from the Marxist tradition, began around the dawn of the twenty-first century (with important precursors) and shows signs of being more constructive. Thinkers in this vein—such as Alain Badiou, Terry Eagleton, and Slavoj Žižek—have tended to engage living theologians in direct dialogue and to argue (despite their persistent atheism) that Christian theology possesses resources which secular theory lacks, both for criticizing oppressive structures of power and for conceptually grounding the work of resisting oppression in pursuit of a better world. Moreover, this second turn towards theology is mirrored by a turn of contemporary Christian thinkers like John Milbank, Miroslav Volf, Emmanuel Katongole, and James K. A. Smith towards direct engagement with leading secular theorists. It is my contention that this emerging dialogue between theology and theory has unrealized potential for literary criticism, including the potential to redeem “critique” as it is widely practiced by literary scholars today.
#7 as well, as race in America is a long-term interest of mine, especially through music. Some early passages:
In 2011 Kenneth W. Warren sparked controversy by positing that the demise of state-sponsored segregation had sundered the unity of the African American literary project, effectively bringing it to an end. [...]

Since 2011, a handful of critics, including Walter Benn Michaels, Stephen M. Best, and Douglas A. Jones, have published work that generally accords with Warren’s claim. Their line of critique is to reject the idea that past common experience—not only segregation but, more profoundly, slavery—should be a continuous, if not perpetual, organizing principle of black literary and cultural production. Citing Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) as a touchstone, these critics diagnose a troubling yet pervasive nostalgia for conditions that once compelled racial unity as a matter of social oppression. In their view, such nostalgia bespeaks a regrettable state of false consciousness, whereby one’s imaginary relation to group identity can only be achieved by living in the past.

Unsurprisingly, the other side of the debate has endorsed practically the opposite philosophy of history. With far more critics represented on this side, what might be called the field’s commonsense position is to insist on the enduring legacy of slavery and Jim Crow in contemporary America. Less an explicit model of periodization than an assertion that race matters in comparable ways across the centuries, this line of critique more or less echoes Beloved’s narrative strategy: namely, identify those connections to the past that bind present-day subjects to the departed and thereby affirm the coherence of the black experience. History, in this account, is what hurt and what continues to hurt.
I can't help but think of Ta-Nehisi Coates here, with his insistence that to be "white" is to be racist and hence that racism inheres in America.

"The Irony of Critique", like several of these pieces, is a consideration of a book:
Jeffrey R. Di Leo’s collection Criticism After Critique: Aesthetics, Literature, and the Political emerges at a moment when academic critique—a politically animated critical skepticism that draws upon the insights offered by deconstruction, psychoanalysis, Marxism, and various forms of historicism—seems to have become stale, ineffective, and formulaic. Now that scholarship has debunked assumptions about the transcendental value of art, unmasked myth, illusion, and ideological aberrations, opened up an insular canon, exhumed repressed voices and forgotten histories, and demonstrated the complicity of the liberal-humanist tradition with the worst of Western Civilization, what next? The digital humanities, new formalism, surface and distant reading, new materialisms, and the self-proclaimed return to aesthetics represent some of the new critical fashions competing to carry the baton for literary studies into the twenty-first century. They promise relevance, innovation, a renewed political urgency, the ability to overcome common impediments such as the critic’s fallible subjectivity, and different ways of “reading” that can yield new forms of historical and sociological knowledge. With a range of new methodologies from which to choose, what is left of what Di Leo calls “the modus operandi of the humanities,” namely, critique?
On the whole, this looks like a useful set of short – dare I use that word? – interventions.

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