Leverage and deconstruction

This book explores key critical debates in the humanities in recent times in the context of the legitimation crisis widely felt to be facing academic institutions, using Derrida's idea of leverage in the university. In particular, it concerns an account for the malaise in the university by linking critical developments, discourses and debates in the modern humanities to a problem of the institution itself. The book finds within these discourses and debates the very dimensions of the institution's predicament: economic, political, ideological, but also, inseparably, intellectual. It looks at some of the recurring themes arising in the early key texts of new historicism and cultural materialism. The book also argues that these approaches in a number of ways orient their critical strategies according to certain kinds of logics and structures of reflection. It instances disorientation and leverage in the university by exploring the problematic doubleness of economics as indeterminately both inside and outside contemporary cultural theory. The book also argues that the interdisciplinary approach of cultural analysis has a certain amount of difficulty positioning economics as either simply an outside or an inside. The orientation and leverage within the university apparently offered by the development of cultural studies and by certain forms of interdisciplinarity comes at the cost of an irresolvable disorientation between the object and the activity of criticism.

Critical readers of Francis Bacon's New Atlantis have often drawn attention to the complex relationship between the production and dissemination of enlightened scientific knowledge in Bensalem. For readers of Bacon and students of the early modern period in England more generally, the New Atlantis unavoidably raises questions concerning the relationship between censorship and knowledge. Richard Burt's Licensed by Authority argues against any clear-cut distinction between criticism and censorship, poetic liberty and licensed poetry, within the multiple and dispersed, and often equivocal and contradictory, spaces and conditions of the court and market. The censorship and criticism become self-identical terms that can be juxtaposed in a stable opposition; the critic is "opposed" to censorship. Salomon's House exemplifies in ideal terms the advancement of learning, in the context both of academic principle and institutional practice. The orderliness of the institution's academic disciplines is mismatched by that of the conduct of its officials.

in Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis
Abstract only
Walking on two feet

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book explores key critical debates in humanities in recent times in the context of the legitimation crisis widely felt to be facing academic institutions, using Jacques Derrida's idea of leverage in the university as a critical point of departure. It discusses the deconstructive studies of the university in detail and examines aspects of the university's intellectual traditions and genealogy. The book also discusses the problematical doubleness of economics as undecidably both inside and outside contemporary cultural theory. Through a close reading of Kant's The Conflict of the Faculties, Derrida suggests that Kant attempts to contain and control the violently disruptive and divisive energies of this intractable crisis by insisting on its nature as mere 'conflict' as opposed to out-and-out 'war'.

in Rethinking the university

This chapter considers a number of instances of foot fetishism as they arise in twentieth-century critical thought, many of which seem to offer a way for thinkers to gain a sort of foothold, to attempt or explore orientation in their respective fields. Examples will include: Heidegger's analysis in his essay 'The origin of the work of art' of Van Gogh's depiction of shoes; Frederic Jameson's discussion in 'The cultural logic of late capitalism' of portrayals of footwear in modern art. Jameson finds in Van Gogh's peasant shoes a vibrant, organic immediacy, the painting itself gloriously transforming the poverty, abjection and oppression that it takes as its subject within a 'Utopian realm of the senses'. Jacques Derrida's evocation of shod feet orients his essay in its final stages towards 'a discussion' held with Meyer Shapiro some years earlier 'on the subject of certain shoes in Van Gogh'.

in Rethinking the university
Reflections on new historicism and cultural materialism

The 'glasse' of majesty depended on the reversibility of subject-object within the drama of Stuart succession, in order to reproduce and circulate the mythic totality of power. In a number of key texts associated with new historicism and cultural materialism, the 'hall of mirrors' image of the spectacle of power is considered so important as to provide a starting point for the analysis. New historicism can be situated within an American tradition, epitomised at its height by New Criticism, that seems primarily concerned with the 'cultivation of "emotional distance'". Cultural materialism claims at the gritty level of practice as well as in the seductive language of theory to foreground its, and others', mediations of literary and cultural objects. In Radical Tragedy, one of the key texts in the development of cultural materialism, Jonathan Dollimore refutes textual coherence and stresses instead literary and cultural fragmentation and discontinuity in the Renaissance.

in Rethinking the university
The deconstruction of institutional politics

This chapter presents important deconstructive studies of the university, to pursue the issues attendant upon, the deconstructibility of an institutional politics of opposition, and the different challenges and possibilities afforded by the deconstructibility of the university's institutional set-up itself. In the beginning of his book The University in Ruins, Bill Readings recognises that the discourse of excellence which typifies, organises, and represents the Western university in the late twentieth century is at bottom non-ideological, politically non-partisan, in orientation or determination. Peggy Kamuf's The Division of Literature, Or, The University in Deconstruction approaches the question of the university by way of a close analysis of the complex history of literary study in the modern university. Deconstruction can be publicly censured only by the taking of certain liberties that in fact bind the offended party to the very same kinds of practices that they wish to condemn in deconstruction.

in Rethinking the university
Censorship, knowledge and the academy

Michael Holquist questions simple-minded notions of censorship as epitomising a struggle between opposed forces locked in a contest of wills. One of the places where questions of censorship have been raised most interestingly in recent times is Renaissance studies, which has itself been taken by many modern critics to provide a forum for larger arguments of contemporary relevance. Seeing censorship as a constitutive feature of emergent 'modern' forms of legitimation, the author's reading of New Atlantis will necessarily place an emphasis on the productive or enabling role that censorship has in the formation of knowledge. New Atlantis forces a reconsideration of the boundaries of the academy in the modern context, suggesting that the instability of institutional limits may be longstanding and functional rather than symptomatic of a sudden crisis, a new moment of breakdown.

in Rethinking the university
Economy, exchange and cultural theory

This chapter shows disorientation and leverage in the university by exploring the problematic doubleness of economics as indeterminately both inside and outside contemporary cultural theory. It presents the question of the interdisciplinary nature of cultural analysis, particularly in relation to the complex interchange between the economy of criticism, and the location and deployment of the field of economics itself within the intellectual and discursive economy. To account for the problematic yet productive interaction between cultural criticism's own economy and the field of economics, the chapter presents the question of gift-exchange that has so interested theorists across the various disciplines of anthropology, sociology, economics, semiotics and philosophy. The chapter focuses specifically on the implications for cultural criticism of the close relationship between the concept of the gift and that of culture itself arising from Jacques Derrida's discussion.

in Rethinking the university

This chapter talks about survival, not death. For critical theory and critical theorists, then, death is everywhere. In Jacques Derrida's work, The Gift of Death, the gift is linked intimately with death in thinking the other, the secret and the question of responsibility. Derrida's idea of 'living on' is dissimilar in important ways to the kind of survival which for Jean Baudrillard results from the exclusion within political economy of the incessant play of symbolic exchange with death found in archaic societies. Baudrillard writes that responsibility has been dead a long time. By suggesting that the question of responsibility is irrelevant both regarding the present system and a future 'beyond' it, Baudrillard risks re-inscribing the political and ideological constraints surrounding the inert forms of survival he wishes to expose and critique.

in Rethinking the university
Abstract only
The art of memory

In the vicinity of a number of different issues and contexts ranging across the modern academic institution, the author suggests an intractable problem of disorientation in the university that nevertheless provides the conditions for certain kinds of leverage to occur. In 'The art of memoires', the second in a series of three lectures given in memory of Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida draws attention to de Man's strong reading of Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's Aesthetics. For de Man allegory remains, both 'before and after Hegel', in a way that makes possible the concept and the construction of history. Thus, Derrida tells us, one cannot simply 'rely on something like history', the concept of which is in fact an effect of the allegorical, 'to account for this "allegoricity"'.

in Rethinking the university