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The Task of Cultural Critique

The Task of Cultural Critique

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 232
  • Book Info
    The Task of Cultural Critique
    Book Description:

    In this study, Teresa L. Ebert makes a spirited, pioneering case for a new cultural critique committed to the struggles for human freedom and global equality. Demonstrating the implosion of the linguistic turn that isolates culture from historical processes, The Task of Cultural Critique maps the contours of an emerging materialist critique that contributes toward a critical social and cultural consciousness._x000B__x000B_Through groundbreaking analyses of cultural texts, Ebert questions the contemporary Derridian dogma that asserts "the future belongs to ghosts." Events-to-come are not spectral, she contends, but the material outcome of global class struggles. Not "hauntology" but history produces cultural practices and their conflictive representations--from sexuality, war, and consumption to democracy, torture, globalization, and absolute otherness. With close readings of texts from Proust and Balzac to "Chick Lit," from Lukacs, de Man, Deleuze, and Marx to Derrida, Žižek, Butler, Kollontai, and Agamben, the book opens up new directions for cultural critique today.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09106-3
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: The Critique of Interpretive Reason
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    • 1. The Spectral Concrete
      (pp. 3-26)

      The contemporary ecstasy about the concrete is commonly seen as theoryʹs commitment to materiality or, in Eve Kosofsky Sedgwickʹs words, to the ʺheartbeat of contingencyʺ (Touching Feeling147). It shows itself especially in the pleasures that contemporary critique takes in the technologies of representation that are found in cultural texts. A contingent materiality is considered a resistance against the idealism and unbounded utopianism that have marked traditional (humanist) cultural critiques as found in the writings of John Ruskin, Walter Pater, and Matthew Arnold or, closer to our time, T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, John Crowe Ransom, and Lionel Trilling, among...

    • 2. The Abstract of Transformative Critique
      (pp. 27-45)

      Different modes of cultural critique are articulated according to the underlying logic of their interpretation, which is basically a theory about the relation of language to reality. At the focal point of all these theories, whether explicit or, more often, implicit, is the matter of mimesis. Mimesis, of course, is not a purely literary or cultural issue. The reason such a seemingly innocuous issue is the subject of ongoing contestations and conflicts in contemporary cultural theory is that it is ultimately a question of class.

      De Man, however, argues that mimesis is ʺthe figure of a figure,ʺ ʺone trope among...

    • 3. Desiring Surfaces
      (pp. 46-66)

      Although the concrete in contemporary feminist theory as practiced by Judith Butler, Diana Fuss, Elspeth Probyn, Elizabeth Grosz, and others is taken as a mark of materiality, it is actually the surface of a new spirituality. The association of feminism with materiality is based on the bodyʹs ʺown weighty materialityʺ (Grosz,Volatile Bodies21), but this ʺweighty materialityʺ is more an objective idealism than it is materialism. The alienated concrete that grounds this idealism is the imaginary of what I calldelectable materialism—a ʺmateriality without materialism and even perhaps without matter,ʺ to recall Derrida (ʺTypewriter Ribbonʺ 281). This neomateriality...


    • 4. Affective Pedagogy and Feminist Critique
      (pp. 69-96)

      Like all cultural practices, pedagogy is structured by class relations. In pedagogical critique, however, nothing is more aggressively excluded from the scene of teaching than class. In more traditional critique, class is declared completely irrelevant to learning. According to these narratives, teaching should go beyond all social and ideological limits and teach the ʺtruthʺ of the subject, and class is viewed as the most limiting of all limits. In much recent contemporary critique, class is bypassed altogether by stating that the main task of pedagogy is to teach the impossibility of teaching. What needs to be taught, these pedagogies maintain,...

    • 5. Chick Lit: “Not Your Mother’s Romance Novels”
      (pp. 97-117)

      Romance novels (such as Harlequin romances) are fantasies, or to be more precise, as Marx says, they are ʺthe fantastic realizationof the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true realityʺ (ʺCritique of Hegelʹs Philosophy of Rightʺ 244, emphasis in original). At the same time, these fantasies, to continue using Marxʹs argument, express a real yearning for ʺtrue realityʺ—a reality in which one is not alienated from oneself and others. Fantasies are illusions that promise to cure alienation. By providing anillusoryhappiness, however, romances obscure the struggles forrealhappiness. To critique these illusions...

    • 6. Red Love
      (pp. 118-133)

      The ruinous impact that capitalism and the free market have had on Russia give new urgency to the question of the relations of gender, sexuality, and capitalism in cultural critique. It also opens up a space in transformative critique for a serious reconsideration of the early Soviet and Bolshevik experiments in order to revaluate some of the revolutionary possibilities that socialism has raised for the emancipation of women. Of special importance in this regard is the work of Alexandra Kollontai, who was a strong critic of capitalism as well as an unrelenting revolutionary theorist and critic on behalf of the...

    • 7. Globalization, the “Multitude,” and Cynical Critique
      (pp. 134-168)

      By now a common code for the free market, globalization has become more a state of desire in contemporary cultural critique than an objective condition. After all the mandatory qualifications of ʺfor better and for worseʺ are made (for example, Derrida et al.,Philosophy in a Time of Terror123) and all the requisite doubts and discontents are expressed (Stiglitz,Globalization and its Discontents), globalization is represented in this interpretive imaginary as an actual or yet-to-come condition of cultural heterogeneity, self-sovereignty, and inclusiveness beyond the regulatory authority of the (nation-) state. Globalization, in these critiques, ʺcan yield immense benefits. …...

    • 8. Reading Ideology: Marx, de Man, and Critique
      (pp. 169-194)

      Jean-Paul Sartre opens hisSearch for a Methodby declaring, ʺA Philosophy is first of all a particular way in which the ʹrisingʹ class becomes conscious of itselfʺ (3–4). Reading, regardless of its immediate subject and empirical object, is always and in the end philosophy in a different mode. For reasons that will soon become clear, however, it is more common today to say the reverse, namely, that philosophy is a form of reading as writing. All readings, to expand on Sartreʹs point, are ways in which classes become aware of themselves and represent their material interests as the...

    • Coda: Reclaiming Totality
      (pp. 195-196)

      Theodor Adornoʹs proclamation ʺThe whole is the falseʺ (Minima Moralia50) is the theoretical dogma of contemporary cultural critique, which claims that totality is the negation of difference. But totality, in fact, is the very condition of difference. Only in ʺrelation to societyas a wholeʺ (Lukács,History and Class Consciousness50) is difference freed from being merely a bourgeois fantasy and becomes material reality. Difference is always difference in totality, which becomes possible only after freedom from necessity (Marx,Gotha Programme) puts an end to class fragmentations and makes totality the everyday consciousness. Without it, difference is the alienated...

    (pp. 197-210)
  7. INDEX
    (pp. 211-214)
  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 215-216)