POST-CRITICAL HUMANITIES: the contempt of “pay up and shut up”

I used to be impressed by the critique of critique. However, when I was an undergraduate in philosophy, the Althusserians took over my department and insituted a programme of “critique of ideology”, which amounted to producing a critique of every other department in the University. Strangely, despite the fact that I was from the beginning explicitly and publicly anti-Althusserian for epistemological reasons, I was given the job of tutor for the epistemological module, called “critique of science”, for several years in a row.

For me this overt tolerance was the sign that the Althusserian-dominated Department of General Philosophy was the successor and inheritor of the struggles of the much more philosophically diverse public that had preceded and contributed to its formation, and so for a while they maintained a certain degree of continuity with the “Romantic” critique that had been practiced before their rationalist takeover. For the Althusserians, this critique of the ideology surrounding the practice and teaching of science was merely a necessary part of the application of their critical paradigm. After them came the Lacanians and the Derrideans, who began the critique of critique in theory, and who liquidated all that critique in practice, in favour of a post-modern textual experimentation.

So I am very aware of the motivations, the plausibility, the stakes, and the limits of the gambit of claiming that it is now the time to abandon the effervescence of speculation and to engage in critical analysis. Such analysis involves the clarification and the critique of all the metaphysical and ideological prejudices of its adversaries. In its radicalised version we extend this critique to our own presuppositions. The end result is silence and paralysis, or else superficial (or cynical) play detached from all reference to the real. Speculative theory with any realist ambition is disqualified.

Lyotard once remarked that since both naive realism and deconstructive anti-realism were untenable, what was left was to combine the two in a limping progress, teetering from one to the other in a zigzag path. For me this limping describes the halting, crooked methods of post-structuralist thinkers such as Deleuze, Lyotard, Badiou, Stiegler and Feyerabend, and if the epithet “speculative realism” were to have any content it would usefully designate this heuristic pluralist methodology and the speculative ventures of these thinkers, rather than the regressive productions of their self-styled successors.

The “new” speculation abandons critique for a simpler relation to the real, both more optimistic and more direct. The practical implementation of this attitude involves an impatience with and rejection of any critical discussion. Negativity, formerly the ally of speculation, is now rejected and repelled, and readers of the new speculative realist texts are invited in effect to “like it or lump it”, i.e. to adhere to the movement of speculation or to go elsewhere and create their own movement – as if social impetus was considered to be more important than intellectual embrace.

We are treated to a pseudo-Nietzschean contempt for the “sterility” of the critic compared to fecondity of the creator (i.e. the writer of academic articles and books, which is not a very Nietzschean idea of creation).

My problem with such an attitude is that these texts are distributeded to be bought and to be read by a large proportion of people who do not themselves write and publish. Is the ordinary reader supposed just to cough up the cash and to keep silent, to stifle any critical thought, because he or she is not a “creator”? If we include the reader in our purview the proud slogans against critique take on a more sinister import, transcribing and repeating the image of thought of the neo-liberal era: just buy, consume and applaud, let us do the thinking for you.

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8 Responses to POST-CRITICAL HUMANITIES: the contempt of “pay up and shut up”

  1. The so-called “creativity” of SR is a regressive nostalgia. That’s interesting in its own way, sociologically, but it isn’t creative philosophy.


    • terenceblake says:

      Yes, the negation of critical negativity is no guarantee of creativity. By refusing on principle all outside evaluation it denies the demands of testability and lapses into old stereotypes recycled as novelty..


      • I agree, there’s always a tacit arc of consumer ideology that configures the way critiques are received by some American SR people. That need not be a bad thing, but when it’s an unthinking reflex that produces demonstrably incompetent & banal thinking, it descends to the level of YouTube religious debates. American universities love this kind of thing. By forever restaging contrived contests between the ‘secular’ and the ‘sacred’, it allows them to sustain the kind of hysteria conducive to an unbound consumer drive, the hype characteristic of motivational psychology. Bryant is a salesman, Harman is a car mechanic, they both work at the same dealership.

        Liked by 1 person

      • landzek says:

        Ah ha! Thanks also Artxell. (Btw: how do you pronounce that? )


      • You’re Welcome, landzek.
        Arts ‘ul
        Art xul


  2. landzek says:

    Good point. Actually; excellent point.


  3. Alexander Wilson says:

    I agree. The point about Lyotard’s allusion to a zigzagging, limping, slow process of oscillation between naive realism and anti-realism is especially appealing to me. (Where exactly does he state this?) Specifically, it obviates a particular way in which accelerationism is flawed. Accelerationism, in its emphasis on speed, on hastily and impatiently “getting it over with”, is intrinsically uncritical in this very sense. Criticality in some sense has to do with slowing down. It requires care, subtlty, agility, practice. Your point about the publishing and media machine that supports these ventures unilaterally is well founded.


  4. terenceblake says:

    Lyotard stated this in a private conversation in 1980, but I have always remembered it, as the image of “limping” conveyed perfectly the only possible answer to my problem at that time. Your point about the necessity of slowing down and taking time as essential to philosophy is taken up by Lyotard in the introduction to THE DIFFEREND, where he indicates that this sort of book, requiring reflection and its slowness, may well have become impossible for the present epoch. “Criticality” is tied by him to anamnesis, and thus to a different experience of time than that provided by accelerationism, which Lyotard would link to complexification.


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