Category Theory

When the map seems larger than the territory

On one of the websites for students of rhetorical theory, conversation has recently focused on the status of psychoanalytic criticism and the question of whether its insights are being willfully ignored by the larger field.  Josh Gunn kicked off the discussion, in part, by noting that despite recent interest, “rhetorical theory — at least on […]

The future of globalized literary history

A 2008 special issue of New Literary History (vol. 39) is focused on the future of literary history (and, relatedly, comparative literary studies) given globalization.  To some extent one can track the complicated history of World Literature through the early and influential essays of Rene Wellek, who advocated for comparative scholarship even as he warned […]

The death of the literary critic

I’ve just finished Rónán McDonald’s little book, The Death of the Critic (London: Continuum, 2007), the broad point of which is to decry the diminution of the literary critical role in society that was formerly occupied by well trained readers like Calvin Trilling, Matthew Arnold, F.R. Leavis, and writers who also produced criticism, like T.S. […]

On the relevance of Lionel Trilling

I am aware of no specific anniversary that has prompted the spat of recently revitalized interest in the life work of Lionel Trilling, the legendary Columbia University professor and author most famously of The Liberal Imagination (1950).  But suddenly his writing has sprung back into intellectual circulation:  the first third of an unfinished novel, The […]

Are there images we ought not see?

If memory serves, I’ve attended at least five academic presentations spread out over the last six years or so where brutal photographs of racial lynchings were splayed onto a big PowerPoint screen as the objects of critical analysis.  These are terrifying images that reveal acts of horror:  bodies twisting at rope’s end, defaced and sometimes […]

Reciprocity and 21st century liberalism

In Madison, Wisconsin this weekend for the biennial Public Address Conference, I had the pleasure tonight to hear a most interesting keynote address given by John Murphy, a communication scholar at the University of Illinois, as well as responses given by two of the field’s most productive scholars.  The talk was aimed to respond, one […]

Eloquence and the iconic presidency

The scholarly conversation prompted by Jeffrey Tulis’ The Rhetorical Presidency (Princeton University Press, 1987) continues to animate research on the modern presidency, a fact confirmed by the wide range of essays published in a special issue on the topic last year in Critical Review (vol. 19:2-3, 2007).  The journal’s editor, Jeffrey Friedman, places Tulis’ claim […]

When humanistic scholarship is not beautiful

When Pablo Picasso first exhibited his work at the young age of eighteen, the reviews were not very promising.  His friends had found him a gallery space he could use for free, but there were also no funds available to properly mount the (mostly) bohemian portraits.  So the canvases were literally pinned to the walls, […]

On the limits of consumer culture critique

Beneath the understandable enthusiasm conveyed in the scholarship done by those who have documented the enormous and expanding activism opposed to neoliberal globalization lurks a palpable unease.  Partly I think this connects to the almost total failure of anti-globalization activism to accomplish more than successes at the margin, and as important as those are, global […]

Deliberation, disabled by group polarization

Scholarship centered on the final possibility of reasonable and efficacious public deliberation is often torn between two conflicting impulses.  One is the aspiration, which derives from the optimism inherent in the Enlightenment sense that collective human action might be plausibly freed from the arbitrariness of superstition and monarchical power, expressed by defenders of such institutions […]

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