Literary Criticism: A Political History

Panel Discussion | April 5 | 6-8 p.m. | Wheeler Hall, Maude Fife Room, 315 Wheeler Hall

 Stephen Best, Associate Professor, Berkeley English; Catherine Gallagher, Professor Emerita, Berkeley English; David Marno, Associate Professor, Berkeley English; Namwali Serpell, Associate Professor, Berkeley English; Joseph North, Assistant Professor of English, Yale English

 Department of English

Is literary criticism political?

Can it be?

Should it be?

People in today's literature departments often assume that their work is politically progressive, especially when compared with the work of early- and mid-twentieth-century critics. In Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History, Joseph North argues that when understood in relation lo the longer arc of the discipline, the current historicist and contextualist mode in literary studies represents a step lo the Right. Since the global turn lo neoliberalism in the late 1970s, all the major movements within literary studies have been diagnostic rather than interventionist in character; scholars have developed sophisticated techniques for analyzing culture, but they have retreated from systematic attempts to transform it. In this respect, the political potential of current literary scholarship compares poorly with that of earlier critical modes, which, for all their faults, at least had a programmatic commitment to cultural change. Yet neoliberalism is now in crisis - a crisis that presents opportunities as well as dangers. The creation of a genuinely interventionist criticism is one of the central tasks facing those on the Left of the discipline today.