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A Retrospective Introduction I urge everyone to join in and not leave the field of values, definitions, and cultures uncontested. They are certainly not the property of a few Washington officials, any more than they are the responsibility of a few Middle Eastern rulers. There is a common field of human undertaking being created and recreated, and no amount of imperial bluster can ever conceal or negate that fact. —Edward W. Said, Al Ahram, August 30, 2003»The essays and papers collected here either emerge from and engage with some of the forces that made possible George W. Bush’s regime in the United States during the first decade of this century or take up particular cultural and intellectual challenges posed by the regime to understand better their implications for life and thought in the United States and abroad. The events of September 11, 2001, did not themselves “change everything” for me or for most academic humanists I know. For many, and certainly for me, the Bush regime’s reaction to those events changed everything. For some, the Bush era demanded strong critical engagement, the attempt to analyze, understand, and resist—often by providing alternatives to the imaginative death that regime desired and embodied. For others, the era offered the chance to challenge the still fragile if seemingly orthodox truths associated with multiculturalism, human rights movements, and the academic fields that studied, advanced, and responded to these movements.1 Many academic leaders polemically stood up for the values, persons, and cultural efforts the right-wing politics of the Bush coalition threatened and deposed.2 Yet others —and perhaps this was the norm—encouraged by the corporatism of university governance, politically motivated economic restrictions, and the needs of professional survival and advancement, immersed themselves in often apolitical, bounded research in traditional and modernized subfields 1 2 A More Conservative Place or committed themselves to teaching and service in ever more proletarianizing institutions.3 When the Bush regime began, I had several research projects on my desk, the chief of which was a study of Henry Adams. Hoping to build on earlier work on intellectuals, I had contracted for not only a book on Adams but also a book on Edmund Wilson and another on Richard Palmer Blackmur. I wanted to write accounts of American intellectual life in the literary humanities , hoping that these diverse figures would allow me to recall intellectual potentials represented by these figures. I had started out trying to answer Edward Said’s question following the publication of my Intellectuals in Power4 —why don’t you talk about American intellectuals?—within the larger context of U.S. transformation into an imperial and hegemonic power. What role did literary, humanistic intellectuals play in the process, and what critical potential, what capacity for alternative social political norms, might we find in these writers if we hoped to reimagine U.S. life and power? Jimmy Carter’s deregulation of the American transportation sector is an early mark of emerging neoliberalism. Movement conservatism and the intensified Cold War of the Reagan years followed rapidly.5 To grasp some of this required reading a wide variety of tendencies in various forms of knowledge production, language, academic practice, and finance to understand above all the roles played by intelligence and imagination in the transformation of the world into a world system. Generous offers to lecture and teach in Geneva, Vienna, and Spain had already started me reading across these fields, hoping to identify and somewhat clarify their constellations in the developments from Reaganism to Clintonism. Ironically, I gathered the research notes, talks, and papers emerging from this synthetizing effort under the working title “The End of Thinking.”6 Simultaneously, I agreed to write a small polemical book on the “culture of theory,” a study meant to clarify the transformations within the academic human sciences—especially in literature departments—consequent upon both the emergence and repudiation of the theory movement of the 1970s and beyond. I published some preliminary results of this research, including a piece that linked the academic antitheory movement to various projects within the Reagan coalition. Certain congruencies between U.S. policy and academic practice required exposition. The papers and essays collected here all carry the traces of research done for these projects, many of which continue. The actions of the Bush regime, especially as they attempted to transform if not end many institutions of A Retrospective Introduction 3 liberal society, struck so hard that they demanded attention. The situation offered a...


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