Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015), 232 pp. und Lee Konstantinou, Cool Characters (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2016), 384 pp.
Apr11

Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015), 232 pp. und Lee Konstantinou, Cool Characters (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2016), 384 pp.

Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015), 232 pp. Lee Konstantinou, Cool Characters (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2016), 384 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   What can the dandy tell us about criticism? He makes appearances in two recent works, Rita Felski’s The Limits of Critique and Lee Konstantinou’s Cool Characters: Irony and American Fiction, both of which diagnose the exhaustion, in our times, of stances of critical suspicion associated with the academic humanities. For Felski, the dandy is the ego-ideal for the ethos of detachment and comprehensive skepticism prized in the academy: “[T]he dandy’s immaculate self-consciousness and disdain for sentimental effusions is perfectly attuned to the scholarly zeitgeist, allowing the critic to carve out a skeptical distance from the mainstream without lapsing back into an earnest language of reason and truth or old-school worship of art” (49). For Konstantinou, likewise, “the history of dandyism” is invoked as the historical origin for the ironist’s oppositional savvy, “which he uses to affirm his status as part of an elect minority, a master of the cultural or symbolic field” (30, 31). As font of irony and criticism, the dandy appears in both of these studies because they are less concerned with critique or irony as formal, logical, or argumentative problems than as subjective attitudes, ways of being. As Felski says, “[I]t is now the posture of the critic that carries disproportionate weight: ironic, reflexive, fastidious, prescient, an implacable foe of false dualism and foundational truths” (24, emphasis mine). Or, as Konstantinou puts it, “Irony is not a method…It is an ethos that consumes the whole person, a whole life” (16-17). “Irony” and “critique” are not of course identical, but, as these passages suggest, there is substantial overlap between them. Both are, in Konstantinou’s words, “characterological”—they reflect not a set of precepts but, rather, a certain kind of person. While for Felski the dandy has pride of place, for Konstantinou the more important figure is the mid-century “hipster,” who, in seminal accounts offered by such figures as Norman Mailer and Anatole Broyard, “seems like nothing less than an intellectual…someone whose ultimate weapon is his ability to manipulate meaning and confront the symbolic logic of social life” (57). But the most symptomatic instances of what Felski calls “suspicious reading” (she adapts the phrase form Paul Ricoeur’s well-known “hermeneutic of suspicion”) have neither the dandy’s grace nor the hipster’s rebellious panache. The characterological correlative of interpretation at its most suspicious is, rather, “the clinically paranoid individual” (35). The tendency Felski refers to might be summed up in David Bromwich’s[1] rueful observation, in 1996, of “the current orthodoxy in literary theory,...

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Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015), viii + 228 pp.
Apr11

Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015), viii + 228 pp.

Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015), viii + 228 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   The Limits of Critique is a persuasive and passionate quarrel with the current state of literary studies. And who would be better equipped to pick this quarrel than Rita Felski, editor of New Literary History with a seismographic feel for the cutting edge of theory. At the core of her new book stands a way of reading—“against the grain and between the lines … to draw out what a text fails—or willfully refuses—to see”—that Felski (with Paul Ricoeur) calls a “hermeneutics of suspicion” (1, emphasis in the original). Better known as “critique,” this eminent scholarly practice has assumed a stifling dominance in our field. Felski, who concedes not being immune to its intellectual charisma and, indeed, made a name for herself as a practitioner of feminist critique, finds this situation not only unfortunate but in dire need for change. For despite its undeniable merits, which are nowhere as palpable as in the recent success stories of the academic institutionalization of feminism, postcolonial and queer studies, critique “has sidelined other intellectual, aesthetic and political possibilities—ones that are just as vital to the flourishing of new fields of knowledge than older ones” (190). Careful to not fall into the trap of performing a mere “critique of critique” that “only draws us further into [the] suspicious mind-set, … [the] endless regress of skeptical questioning” (9) which Felski seeks to overcome, the declared aim of her new book is to describe her subject in ways that expose the limits of critique and, ultimately, make room for other—restorative, resonant, trusting (151; 160; 9)—modes of reading. Limits thus stays in tune with Felski’s investment in giving thought to what does not belong to our usual scholarly repertoire. Is it not time, she asked in her previous book, to align our critical endeavors with literature’s affective affordances? To take seriously that readers are drawn to, moved by, enthralled, and at times even obsessed with literary texts because these texts harbor experiences of recognition, enchantment, shock, and knowledge?[1] In stark contrast to the “uses of literature” explored in her previous book, the mode of reading that Felski sees at work in the scholarly practice of critique thrives on critical distance and detachment from its object while being geared toward a singular end: disenchantment. And because critique defines itself by cool nay-saying rather than warm affirmation, the distinct pleasures that it provides—“the intellectual kick of detecting figures and designs underneath the text’s surface, the delight of crafting ingenious and counterintuitive explanations, the challenge of drawing together what...

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American Studies Today: New Research Agendas, eds. Winfried Fluck, Erik Redling, Sabine Sielke, and Hubert Zapf. Heidelberg: Winter, 2014. American Studies Monograph Series, no. 230. 475 pp.
Apr11

American Studies Today: New Research Agendas, eds. Winfried Fluck, Erik Redling, Sabine Sielke, and Hubert Zapf. Heidelberg: Winter, 2014. American Studies Monograph Series, no. 230. 475 pp.

American Studies Today: New Research Agendas, eds. Winfried Fluck, Erik Redling, Sabine Sielke, and Hubert Zapf. Heidelberg: Winter, 2014. American Studies Monograph Series, no. 230. 475 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   In his famous foundational essay of 1957, “Can American Studies Develop a Method,” Henry Nash Smith proposed “the study of American culture, past and present, as a whole.” Though he did not use the word “interdisciplinary” here, he suggested the context of cultural history for the study of his chosen example, the writer Mark Twain, and proposed a research agenda that held more general significance for the whole field: “What is needed is a method of analysis that is at once literary (for one must begin with an analytical reading of the texts that takes into account structure, imagery, diction, and so on) and sociological (for many of the forces at work in the fiction are clearly of social origin).” Sixty years later, it would appear to be somewhat more difficult to advocate such a clear-cut single research agenda for American Studies, a field that has been, as the editors of the volume at hand put it, “for many years . . . dominated and decisively shaped by revisionist approaches that emerged in the critique of the myth and symbol school and the liberal tradition” (ix), of which Smith was a prime representative. This critique led to a stronger focus on race, ethnicity, class, and gender and to a better understanding of American culture in international contexts. It is telling that Smith’s essay is quoted in American Studies Today as a version of American “exceptionalism” (47), a term that occasionally reappears here and that, as George Blaustein has reminded us, was brought into circulation by Stalin in 1929 when he dismissed as the “heresy of American exceptionalism” the notion that “communism might succeed in the United States without a violent revolution.” American Studies Today is envisioned as an attempt to go beyond the revisionists and “open up the field to a wider spectrum of questions that can (and should) be asked about America” (x). In this manner, the volume takes stock of new work that extends familiar current trends in American studies (transnationalism, transculturalism, globalization, postcolonialism, ecology, race, media, and visual culture). It also proposes less commonly practiced areas as new research agendas (relational sociology, the concept of recognition, ethics and aesthetics, “science | culture | aesthetics”) and advocates the expansion of studies in class and poverty. Any scholar interested in one or more of these twelve topics will find helpful guidance in the discussions of various broad fields through their representative scholarship and encounter thought-provoking presentations...

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