2019-20 Pembroke Seminar

2019-2020 Pembroke Seminar 

"The Question of Critique"
Seminar Leader Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg, Professor of Comparative Literature and Italian Studies

The 2019/2020 Pembroke Seminar: “The Question of Critique” will explore the spaces and times of the work of critique. A return to the question is timely, for over the past two decades and in a broad range of disciplines we have witnessed what may be described as a sense of exhaustion or fatigue with “theory” and other forms of critical work. Bruno Latour in 2004 wondered, for example, why critique had run out of steam and proposed that those same critical paradigms prevalent in the humanities had become fodder for critics of climate change. He in that context proposed a (re)newed relation to our objects of study, by engaging them not as “matters of fact,” but “matters of concern.” Concern, care, or curation towards our objects of critique have found resonance also in literary and cultural studies, opening the way to a greater engagement with affect, restoration and reparation. If the predominant paradigm in the critical humanities prior to this reevaluation had been composed of the post-structuralist criticism of deconstruction, psychoanalysis, (post)-Marxism, feminist, postcolonial and queer theory, the first decades of the 21st century have also produced a body of theory that views itself as engaged with the work of “post-critique.” These and other trends have varied in their impact, their political stakes, and have often been discipline-specific. It is worth asking, therefore, how these new endeavors and demands have played themselves out in literary and cultural studies, theories of sexuality and race, science studies, or historiography – to name only a few of these domains.

Post-critique, for one, does not describe a unified field; it does however share a set of metaphors that underpin its project of “critiquing critique.” The idea of fatigue, in particular of theory fatigue, has functioned as an important component. A second term important to the project has been the critique of suspicion, which has taken place by the recuperation of Paul Ricoeur’s concept of the “hermeneutics of suspicion,” the latter used by the French philosopher to describe the critical projects of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud. The hermeneutics of suspicion has become the blanket term for what post-critical thinkers believe to be – in Rita Felski’s words – the limits of critique, this because dominated by what she claims is a misplaced paranoia. Post-critical thought and the reading practices it propounds rely on spatial metaphors in order to advocate a return to description: if the hermeneutics of suspicion digs deep under ground, post-critique advocates “surface reading” or “distant reading,” among other practices. Finally, and this returns us also to the idea of fatigue, post-critique proposes a move away from the prefix “de-“ (deconstruction, for example, or demystification or destabilization), which is viewed as destructive and exhausting, to the prefix “re.” The latter instead is perceived as an act of reparation and recuperation, whence we gain reparative reading practices that care for their objects of study. In this move, post-critical thinking also embraces a new form of ecological materialism.

In the light of the Pembroke Center’s long-standing commitment to the critical interrogation of difference(s), “The Question of Critique” proposes a set of questions. It will ask, for example, what it means to speak of “limits” of critique: can critique be limited, and if so: how and why? It will furthermore query the extent to which critical practices coincide with reading and/or writing practices, or whether other sorts of sensory activities (such as hearing or touching) support or conflict with acts of reading and writing. It will also ask about the extent to which any of these and other possible questions of method are bound to be discipline-specific and whether and how therefore their political impact and stakes coincide or diverge.

We invite applications from scholars working in all disciplines and fields, including political theory, visual culture, critical legal studies, African studies, diaspora studies, critical studies, crital race studies, anthropology, philosophy, literary studies, classics, history of art, cinema and media Studies, music, gender and women’s studies, science studies, religious studies, and across all historical periods and traditions.

The Pembroke Seminar meets on Wednesdays, from 10:00 am – 12:30 pm.

For more information contact: [email protected] or phone 401-863-2643.