The Limits of Critique

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University of Chicago Press, 20 .. 2015 - 228 ˹
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Why do critics feel impelled to unmask and demystify the works that they read? What is the rationale for their conviction that language is always withholding some important truth, that the critic's task is to unearth what is unsaid, naturalized, or repressed? These are the features of critique, a mode of thought that thoroughly dominates academic criticism. In this book, Rita Felski brilliantly exposes critique's more troubling qualities and proposes alternatives to it. Critique, she argues, is not just a method but also a sensibility--one best captured by Paul Ricoeur's phrase "the hermeneutics of suspicion." As the characteristic affect of critique, suspicion, Felski shows, helps us understand critique's seductions and limitations. The questions that Felski poses about critique have implications well beyond intramural debates among literary scholars. Literary studies, says Felski, is facing a legitimation crisis thanks to a sadly depleted language of value that leaves the field struggling to find reasons why students should care about Beowulf or Baudelaire. Why is literature worth bothering with? For Felski, the tendencies to make literary texts the object of suspicious reading or, conversely, impute to them qualities of critique, forecloses too many other possibilities. Felski offers an alternative model that she calls "postcritical reading." Rather than looking behind the text for its hidden causes, conditions, and motives, she suggests that literary scholars place themselves in front of a text, reflecting on what it calls forth and makes possible. Here Felski enlists the work of Bruno Latour to rethink reading as a co-production between actors, rather than an unraveling of manifest meaning, a form of making rather than unmaking. As a scholar with an abiding respect for theory who has long deployed elements of critique in her own work, Felski is able to provide an insider's account of critique's limits and alternatives that will resonate widely in the humanities.

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Introduction
1
1 The Stakes of Suspicion
14
2 Digging Down and Standing Back
52
3 An Inspector Calls
85
4 Crrritique
117
5 Context Stinks
151
In Short
186
Notes
195
Index
219
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Rita Felski is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English at the University of Virginia and the editor of New Literary History. She is the author of several books, including, most recently, Uses of Literature and Literature after Feminism, the latter also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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