Academic journal article Intertexts

Criticism after Critique: Aesthetics, Literature, and the Political

Academic journal article Intertexts

Criticism after Critique: Aesthetics, Literature, and the Political

Article excerpt

Criticism After Critique: Aesthetics, Literature, and the Political, ed. Jeffrey R. Di Leo (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). 229 pp.

This important and timely collection of eleven essays, with an introduction by Jeffrey R. Di Leo and an afterword by R. M. Berry, should be of considerable interest to anyone concerned about the future viability and vitality of academic literary studies. Rethinking the relation of philosophical-political value to aesthetic signification and appreciation, the collection engages very basic questions, such as how literary criticism can escape anachronism or provinciality in the current intellectual climate, what sorts of readings and pedagogical practices follow from renewed attention to aesthetic aspects of literature, and what place remains for "literary studies" within institutional landscapes oriented ever more emphatically toward technocratic-corporate models.

Beginning "from at least the birth of the high theory of the 1970s," Di Leo notes, "critique has been widely regarded as the bedrock of the humanities" (2), but critique itself--ranging from Frankfurt school "unmasking" of ideology encoded in entertainment industry products to post-structuralism-inspired "political" readings of art's naturalizing of illicit power relations--has recently come under challenge as being (a) naive and politically ineffectual, (b) itself inflexible, repetitive, and dogmatic, and (c) unable to sustain an account of the aesthetic that justifies specific, in-depth study of literature and the others arts. Indeed, the idea that critique may undo ideological mystification assumes that ideology aspires to truth-value and rationalism, but Zizek's 1989 argument that people enjoy ideological consistency for its own sake is supported by abundant evidence that ideology is impervious to critique even as it absorbs critique's techniques. In a world where Nietzsche's claim that there is no truth, only interpretations, has become Fox News editorial policy, the notion that rational appeals to truth will undermine ideology seems both old-fashioned and child-like in its simplicity. Moreover, citing Bruno Latour's argument that Jean Baudrillard's "reading" of 9/11 simply repeats his own earlier claims and interpretative moves, Di Leo raises the prospect that critique has "run its course" (3), has become a "mechanical" formalism "that responds more or less the same way of any and all new events," and so is incapable of non-reductive engagement with aesthetic works and their nuances. He thus poses to his contributors a set of pointed questions: "What does sustained theoretical research and discussion look like when the notion of critique is under attack? ... What, if anything, is the political project of literary and cultural criticism after critique?"

As should be expected, individual essays are diversely focused and offer a variety of perspectives. David M. Shumway anchors Zizek's critique of critique in Kant's critique of reason and argues that "fundamental conflict between the text as object of critique and the text as bearer of knowledge or wisdom cannot be overcome within the humanities" (21). Sue-Im Lee points out that defense of emergent, previously marginalized literature evokes the same value of "Good Writing" that defenses of canonical "masterpieces" also deploy. Discussing the "first-person nature of critical judgments" (71), Robert Chodat delineates how Rorty and Cavell theorize literatures provocation of personal attestation, "sticking out one's neck" (85), as qualifying conceptualizations drift toward totalizing self-certainty. Christian Moraru argues for a "planetarity" rather than "global" (103) perspective as a corrective to "Western-oriented" (102) postmodern paradigms. Noting how tensions "between humanist aspirations to the universal and a politics of radical difference" and "between modernist affirmations of literature's power and cultural studies' insistence on the literary as just one form of discourse that is falsely elevated and fetishized above others" (118) vitiate postcolonial theory, Nicole Simek reads projections of "ironic utopias" (124) in Caribbean fiction as escaping from either/or impasses. …

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