Some Notes on Reading Walter Benjamin’s texts of 1940

On April 28, 2018, I gave this talk at Dartmouth , where Don Pease graciously hosted an anniversary conference for the journal, boundary 2.  Many thanks to Don and all those in the audience who stayed and asked hard questions.  I drew the pages for this talk from the book, Love’s Shadow.


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passing insight

eccentrics can educate.

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The Death of William Spanos

Bill Spanos, my teacher and the founding co-editor of boundary 2 died this morning in Binghamton NY.  His son, Adam Spanos and his wife, Shohreh, were with him.  I met Bill in August 1970 over a cup of coffee in his book lined study listening to Bach.  He had great plans for rewriting the history of especially American literature, for redoing criticism as a form of ontological engagement with human historicality, and for creating a journal to embody and enable all of this.  He came very near to pulling it off over a life-time of writing, teaching, and reading with deep ethical purpose and energy.  He was writing books until the last.  There is much more to say.

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Chatterjee on Anderson: Naive Presumptions

In 1999, Partha Chatterjee can call Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities “one of the most influential books of the late twentieth century.”

I want to call this not only myopic because the frame of reference is troublingly narrow, but also arrogant in the way it assumes the continuing importance of certain kinds of academic work not only in the academy but beyond it.  Why?  Because it assumed the academy and its frames of reference, its internal modalities, are or were secure enough to sustain the continuities implied here and so because it exemplifies the profound failure of such work, namely, to defend and justify its own consequences, in this case by first measuring accurately the truth of its own self-important remarks.

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Rita Felski and Alt-Critique

Ever since I read Felski’s The Limits of Critique, I have been waiting for some one to talk about the coincidence of the movement she’s leading as continuous with a managed society and economy.  No reviewer I have read as yet has analyze her contract with Denmark at a time when a neoliberal government defunded education there.  Nor have I seen anyone ask about the relation between ‘critique’ and ‘critical’ in her writing.  I saw, for example, in the Introduction to the new edited volume, Critique and Postcritique, a slide from objections to critique to ‘critical,’ as ‘post-critique’ becomes ‘post-critical.’  Surely the second is a broader  and more fundamental category that involves not only ‘suspicion,’ but judgment, statement, and opposition.  I have not seen reviewers yet lament the turn to the ‘post-critical’ at time when alternative facts glare at us.

Nor have I seen many reviewers interested in the parallels between the ‘disruptive’ tech and data ideals of management models with the ‘post-critical’ desire to loosen things up, to let a thousand flowers bloom (or was it points of light shine?).  I don’t think I have seen reviews that ask who wants this ‘post-critical’ model, or why anyone should be convinced that because some folks claim they are giving what the customers want, that it really is a good.

Perhaps before we become suspicious of this post-critical, we should describe it, take notice of what it is as the proper way to question why it is and whose interests it serves.  Maybe, we should slow the rush to the post-critical while we live among the alt.

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A Scholar’s Time under Fascism

Has anyone thought carefully about why Heidegger, as The Black Note Books make very clear, gave so much of his precious and protected time to thinking through the mistakes Nazism made in not fulfilling the fascist ambitions he had for the human via philosophy?  During the second Bush years, with the Iraq Wars and the torture protocols, leisure for scholarship was or should have been at a premium.  Of course, during the Obama years–and if truth be told, during those Bush years, too–lots of academic scholarship appeared, some motivated by crises in the external world, some as part of the academy’s internal logics.

What to do now when there is a modicum of protected time (admittedly for a very few) when horrors are all around all of us, even those who don’t see them yet.

I have the usual handful of comparative subjects from Germany mid last century:  Heidegger, Jaspers, Jaeger, Arendt, Auerbach, and Curtius who remained at home–how comfortably, how profitably for the rest of us?

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Statement of a newly imprisoned Chinese Dissident

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