Tag: critique

more on invitation and repair

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.

request for permissions

Justin E. H. Smith:

Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse looks essentially the same to me as these videos that have been appearing on YouTube using copyright-unrestricted lullabies and computer graphics designed to hold the attention of infants. “Johnny Johnny Yes Papa,” for example, now has countless variations online, some of which have received over a billion hits, some of which appear to be parodies, and some of which appear to have been produced without any human input, properly speaking, at all. It is one thing to target infants with material that presumes no well-constituted human subject as its viewer; it is quite another when thirty-somethings with Ph.D.s are content to debate the merits of the Marvel vs. the DC Comics universe or whatever.

Okay, but could I please have a list of topics it’s okay for thirty-somethings with Ph.D.s to talk about? Also somewhat older people with Ph.D.s? 

when critique dissolves

From Ross Douthat’s column today:

But perhaps the simplest way to describe what happened with the surrogacy debate is that American feminists gradually went along with the logic of capitalism rather than resisting it. This is a particularly useful description because it’s happened so consistently across the last few decades: Whenever there’s a dispute within feminism about a particular social change or technological possibility, you should bet on the side that takes a more consumerist view of human flourishing, a more market-oriented view of what it means to defend the rights and happiness of women.

This reminds me very much of an argument Paul Kingsnorth makes in his provocative Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist:

We are environmentalists now in order to promote something called ‘sustainability’. What does this curious, plastic word mean? It does not mean defending the non-human world from the ever-expanding empire of Homo sapiens sapiens, though some of its adherents like to pretend it does, even to themselves. It means sustaining human civilisation at the comfort level that the world’s rich people – us – feel is their right, without destroying the ‘natural capital’ or the ‘resource base’ that is needed to do so.

It is, in other words, an entirely human-centred piece of politicking, disguised as concern for ‘the planet’. In a very short time – just over a decade – this worldview has become all-pervasive. It is voiced by the president of the USA and the president of Anglo-Dutch Shell and many people in between. The success of environmentalism has been total – at the price of its soul.

“Sustainability,” then, is the magic word that allows the worldwide corporate-scaled environmental movement to become utterly comfortable with transnational capitalism. As Kingsnorth points out, the movement’s single-minded focus on reducing carbon emissions allows the energy companies to offer lucrative-for-them “solutions” to carbon-based “problems,” which may well lead to the utter despoiling of places that environmentalists used to care about preserving, even when that meant not sustaining our current levels of consumption. “Motorway through downland: bad. Wind power station on downland: good. Container port wiping out estuary mudflats: bad. Renewable hydro-power barrage wiping out estuary mudflats: good. Destruction minus carbon equals sustainability.”

Environmentalism has made the same deal that (per Douthat’s argument) today’s American feminism has made. Both movements were scrupulously attentive to the depredations of transnational capitalism up to the moment when transnational capitalism said “We can give you stuff you want at no additional cost — to you, anyway.” Then the critiques dissolved.