- Both/AndA Response to Winfried Fluck
I want to warmly thank Winfried Fluck for his substantive engagement with The Limits of Critique (2015). I also appreciate his attention to the differences between Caroline Levine’s work and my own, as well as other critics with whom we’re often associated. Literary studies are currently in a state of flux; it will take time before the dust settles and we get a clearer view of the new divisions and fault lines. In the meantime, it seems advisable to proceed with care. I’ve very much benefited from reading Levine, Heather Love, Sharon Marcus, and Stephen Best, for example, but our concerns go in rather different directions. It’s disconcerting, then, to see us being lumped together under a catch-all term such as surface reading (my own work is a defense of interpretation) or postcritical reading (not a term that most of the above critics use), often accompanied by an unrecognizable potpourri of ideas that we supposedly share.
I’m also grateful to Fluck for recognizing that my argument for postcritique distinguishes it from both anticritique and precritique; it entails, as Best puts it, a “return to trust from the space of doubt” (338). (It’s a return in the sense that my own training was in the Frankfurt school: I once edited a Marxist journal with one of György Lukács’s students, and critical theory remains a staple in all my classes.) Meanwhile, Fluck usefully clarifies how Actor–Network Theory (ANT) can help circumvent zero-sum thinking, where agency is allotted to either reader or texts: as he puts it, “readers have . . . agency, but they are not in control” (235). Attachments to literature are cocomposed—not just by the reader and the work, as phenomenology would have it, but by a host of other factors: parental pressures, trenchant or effusive reviews, a text’s appearance on a college syllabus, [End Page 249] and scraps of knowledge about an author. As Fluck points out, this coproduction makes the task of the critic more challenging; rather than relying on a theory that identifies and preselects the relevant actors for us, we are forced to choose and to justify our choices.1
There are some passages, however, where I do not recognize ideas that are being attributed to me. (That a reader as careful and thoughtful as Fluck understands me to be saying things I do not intend indicates that I need to do a better job of clarifying where I stand.) I was nonplussed to learn that I not only focus on strong affects but have a “corporeal bias” that sidelines questions of intention and interpretation (235). The final chapter of The Limits of Critique makes the case for a less cerebral hermeneutics that can include, rather than ignore, feeling and sensation. But the book is, nonetheless, an unapologetic defense of interpretation—taking issue with longstanding caricatures of hermeneutics in French theory as synonymous with the nailing down of a single or simple meaning. Paul Ricoeur, who has done the most to challenge this view and is perhaps the most sophisticated philosopher of interpretation, is one of the book’s key reference points. And while Bruno Latour challenges traditional subject-centered philosophies, there is no meaningful sense in which he denies interiority in order to focus on corporeal effects. (This language rein- states the very subject-object, thought-matter, dichotomies that ANT seeks to circumvent.) As the subtitle of his most widely cited essay, “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam?,” indicates, Latour’s work addresses “matters of concern”—the relation between facts, beliefs, and values as they shape human interaction with a nonhuman world.
The main source adduced for my corporeal and affective bias is the following sentence: “What about the song on the radio that unexpectedly reduces you to tears, the horror movie gore-fest that continues to haunt your dreams, the novel that convinced you to take up Buddhism or to get divorced?” (qtd. in Fluck 232). I think Fluck here may be ascribing more weight to a passing remark than it deserves—and yet it’s worth pointing out that, while its...