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Responses to Rita Felski’s Hooked: Art and Attachment
Complexity enchants ANT, new materialism, posthumanism, media studies, affect theory, and the literary undertakings of postcritique, new descriptivism, and “weak theory.” Its prophets claim as virtue that reality is immanent to itself, that no individual element of a complex web can be said to activate “a more fundamental reality” than any other. There is therefore a propulsive purpose accorded to critics: count up the everything, trace out the complexities, caress nuance, feel the vibe, what is connected to what. When everything is complicated and criticism calls itself to the tasks of phenomenological witnessing and empiricist tabulating, the vocation of criticism to make a cut in the swath of experience, to shift registers to a different order of knowing, is abandoned.
Daguerre, Christian Prometheus
Who was Daguerre? The person who precipitated the fall of man into foul narcissism? Or the person who, by giving men mastery of divine light, offered them a path toward ultimate redemption? For his part, Daguerre seemed to be quite conscious of renewing Prometheus’s ancient feat, drawing upon it with evident pride.
William Morris: The Poetics of Indigo Discharge Printing
Morris was thinking of the chemical events in indigo discharge printing as analogous to the actions of human history. […] The material processes of getting the dye into the fabric are correlated by him to the politics of the world’s struggles and the prospects for a future society.
Chardin’s Pastels
Chardin’s gradual recusal from Academic affairs is the backdrop for one of the most astonishing developments in the artist’s waning years: the turn to pastels at the advanced age of seventy-two. In this essay, I argue that this move was not merely the coincidence of failing eyesight and ill health. Both the medium of pastel and the subject matter he chose to treat can also be construed as highly motivated, strategic decisions. The evidence for my argument is three-fold: the pastels themselves, the timing of their exhibition at the Salon, and the artist’s knowing self-construction through the critical trope offered by his frequent comparison to the Dutch artist Rembrandt and what was presumed to be their shared “enslavement” to nature. This entails, as well, a careful unpacking of the phrase d’après nature with regard to both artistic practice and its perception in the context of a quintessentially Enlightenment understanding of sensation.
Betting on “The Greek”: How the NFL Is Banking on Biological Racism
With the Super Bowl set to kick off on Sunday and media-fueled football fanfare ramping up accordingly, it is worth revisiting the NFL’s preseason scandal that wasn’t—its apparent use of biological racism in denying the compensatory claims of black former players for traumatic brain injuries sustained while playing in the league. Here we interrogate this case, the impotence of disparitarian antiracism to confront it, and its implications for egalitarian politics.
Ben Lerner’s Theater of Dissent
Ben Lerner’s second Adam Gordon novel, The Topeka School, offers both a genealogy of right-wing political speech and, presumably, an alternative. But insofar as the novel’s politics culminate in political theater, that alternative is reduced to the politics of the status quo. The Topeka School, and those critics for whom its success rises or falls on its ability to provoke aesthetic experience, conflate political experience and political action. While no work of art is likely to do the work of dismantling structures of inequality for us, the work of art that asserts its irreducibility to the “inflexible laws” of the political status quo, and our experiences of it, might provide a new way of seeing or imagining it together—something that the attention to aesthetic and political experience alone cannot do.
The Trouble with Disparity
Every time racial disparity is invoked as the lens through which to see American inequality, the overwhelming role played by the increased inequality in the American class system is made invisible. And this is, of course, true on the right as well as the left—think of all the conservative commentators defending the police by invoking the spectre of black-on-black murder. And then think of the widespread agreement among criminologists that the Gini coefficient “predicts murder rates better than any other variable.” Conservatives who try to blame black crime on race and liberals who try to blame it on racism are both missing the point. If you want to distinguish between the left and the right, the relevant question is not what they think about race; it’s what they think when race is taken out of the equation.
Some Comments on the Claims Made For and Against Painting
Experiences of world-disclosure are accomplished by achievements in certain long-tested forms of art—what we can call the canonical forms. These forms, like easel painting or lyric poetry, have proven over long periods of time to be the appropriate sites for this activity; but, more than that, they were practices through which the value of world-disclosure had been invented and developed through history. It was on this basis that they constituted a canon not just of exemplary works in each art, but a canon of the forms of art themselves. As such, they embodied criteria that could be effective in deciding if an activity was or was not “art.” Although the existence of the canon gave no conceptual guarantee or definition of art, it was accepted as one, de facto, based on its own history, or histories.
Marxism and Criticism
What all this comes down to, then, is that Berger accepts a priori a militant and often staggeringly vulgarized brand of Marxism from which all his judgments about art derive, in language anyway. … My fundamental objection is not that Berger begins from a position of accepting Marxist theory. In the world we live in more and more critics of art may be expected to start from similar political premises. But what is imperative is that the critic define his terms; that he show with sensitivity and logical rigor the usefulness and, if possible, the necessity of employing Marxist concepts and terminology. Unless he can do this his judgments will reveal nothing more than the strength of his bias and the slovenliness of his mind: they can say nothing about the works of art in question.
Ruskin’s Broken Middle
Whenever Ruskin’s language steers toward the performative, we might say, it stages its own inability to perform. Instead emerges the quieter power of Ruskin’s constative mode—its gentle, unpossessive efficacy. Of course this is agony for Ruskin. Description, he believes, should lead on steadily to prescription—to making things happen in the world. But time and again, that “leading” leads nowhere. Out of such disappointments come new possibilities for descriptive relation. Neither quite active or passive, the attention Ruskin’s descriptions perform might achieve a voice in some radical sense “middle,” inhabiting, however provisionally, some self-reflexive space between.
Poverty and Politics: Bolsonaro, Neoliberalism’s Authoritarian Alternative, and the Ongoing Assault on Democracy in Brazil
As the struggle against the authoritarian neoliberal regime continues to unfold, the actions of the organized labor-left in general, and the PT in particular, will be pivotal for constructing an opposition capable of defeating right-wing neoliberal authoritarianism. The heightened quality of the political conflict ahead will also challenge the way in which left and progressive forces perceive and develop political action, demanding a left capable of organizing and mobilizing resistance in multiple (institutional and non-institutional) spheres of politics simultaneously.
Deneocolonize Your Syllabus
It hardly needs saying that the term “decolonize” once meant something wholly different than it does now. To put it not a little too bluntly, in the heyday of the anticolonial movement it was the colonies and the colonized that needed decolonizing, not the colonizers, but now even that need, as we like to say, has been “colonized.” Of course we understand that the “decolonize” in the slogan “decolonize your syllabus” is metaphorical, that it means diversify or “decenter” (as we also like to say), but that does little to allay the fact that, formally, rhetorically, it collapses the distinction between colonizer and colonized. Sometimes, decentering oneself and one’s syllabi means little more than absolving oneself of accountability for the colonial past. Just to give it a name, we might call this phenomenon “colonial narcissism.”