Rita Felski’s book The Limits of Critique primarily concerns literary criticism, but its argument has a more general application, as does Bruno Latour’s essay “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam?” Both scholars have been formed by an intellectual environment in which skill at critique is the definitive skill — almost the only one worth practicing. But they have also perceived the ways that critique, pursued in the absence of any positive vision of the good, degenerates into a series of rote and irritable gestures.
I want to follow Michael Oakeshott in thinking of culture, or any culture worth preserving and extending, as an invitation or series of invitations. To act culturally, to do culture, is, ideally, to welcome people into endeavors of thought and practice — to invite people into certain enabling and productive disciplines. A culture that does not spontaneously invite cooperation and the participation of outsiders does not deserve the name of culture.
But it is also quite obviously the case that our own culture is deteriorated and in many respects broken. One might critique those who have brought it into the state that it currently is in, but that is really a useless thing to do. It is much better, I think, to reflect on the ways in which the existing culture can be maintained where it is healthy and repaired where it is not.
And therefore the invitation which I wish to extend is not an invitation merely to observe and contemplate, or approve and disapprove. Rather, it is an invitation to participate in maintenance and repair.