Quite an extraordinary discussion has erupted surrounding Eileen Joy’s Swedish Twitter University lecture on SR literary criticism and my follow-up post. Over at Digital Digs, Alex Reid has a post building on the discussion in terms of rhetorical analysis, emphasizing reading as composition or building. At Fractured Politics, Kris Coffield has a great post discussing why there is no object-oriented literary criticism, though not for the reasons you would expect. Building on Alex’s post, Timothy Richardson of Objet (A)thenticity has a post describing the process of writing as building a “thing”. Finally, in comments to my post, Eileen wrote the following wonderful response building on her axiomatics in the Twitter lecture:
Levi, thank you very much for your post here and also everyone else for a very lively set of comments. Since the constraints of the Twitter Univ. lecture allowed for only 25 tweets at 140 characters each, while that certainly allowed me to crystallize some of my thinking relative to what a speculative realist literary criticism might look like [it allowed me, further, to try to develop some “axioms” for further work], it also meant that I wasn’t allowed to unpack all of the cognitive work that has gone into my own personal project of developing new reading modes influenced by certain strains of SR and OOO work [esp. that of Levi, Graham Harman, Timothy Morton, Ian Bogost, Jane Bennett, and Steven Shaviro–and these are not necessarily compatible thinkers: but I like to cobble]. Also, I might change my mind at any given moment relative to one or more of my Twitter Univ. “axioms” [everything in the humanities, I would aver, is always a work in progress, and unlike — perhaps — in philosophy, I’m not personally aiming for anything systematic here so much as I am seeking to expand my toolkit for literary analysis].
I can’t speak to everything in Levi’s post [much of which I agree with] or the comments here, but here are some clarifications I would make relative to what I have read here today:
1. in my own work — and as someone who works in medieval studies, this is partly an outcome of certain historical investments I have — I am actually interested in re-fortifying humanism, but through post/humanist and object-oriented and vibrantly materialist means, in order to make that humanism less oppressive, more ethically capacious, more critically flexible [Andy Mousley and Martin Halliwell coined the term “baggy humanism” in their book “Critical Humanisms”]. I define humanism through a kind of pared-down, bare bones description: the practice of reading, reflection, and writing with the belief that texts offer critical resources for reflection and that [my/our] writing is enworlded and might have some effect on what happens in the world [here, I borrow from the late Edward Said’s idea of “worldly” criticism]. Human beings have some important work to do and the university is an important site for continuing to raise, as Bill Readings once argued [“The University in Ruins”], what the questions of “being-together” might mean, as well as to place thought beside thought, without preconceived notions of what it is “proper” to do, or not do, intellectually. This is also similar to Derrida’s “university without condition,” where we ought to have the right to say anything, and to publish it, even under the heading of fiction. I see this as important, *humanist* work., BUT:
2. It might be important at this particular juncture within the humanities — and under the aegis, perhaps, of new strains of post/humanist thought, including SR and OOO, but also network/media studies, critical animal studies, systems theory, cybernetics, avant garde poetics, and the like — to re-tool traditional humanist practices, like literary criticism, such that they might start to take account of a wider register of the enworlded enactions and effects of things like texts [and please: I know some CURRENT and OLDER reading modes have attended to this, but … keep reading]. Here I would pause for a moment to say that we should try not to get to hung up on the language of which methods [traditional or newer] of analyzing texts supposedly “close” them down or “open” them up. I myself do not want to argue that literary criticism up until now has been mainly intent on closing down texts: I think there are LOTS of ways in which traditional reading modes [whether New Critical or deconstructist or New Historicist or psychoanalytic] have *thickened* our understanding of what texts actually do in the world, as *actants* [after all, isn’t New Historicism interested in the ways in which a text dispenses and circulates certain social energies beyond the intentionalities of an author?], BUT: these critical frameworks have also often only been interested in getting us to see texts in relation to how they are supposedly produced and received by and circulate in human-centric networks/contexts of exchange, meaning, etc. Now, these human-centric networks and contexts matter a great deal, and I would never say to stop paying attention to them [that is why New Historicism, as well as symptomatic/psychoanalytic + skeptical-ideological readings have illuminated so much for us, and will continue to do so, regarding the role of literary texts in history as *actants* in the world that are importantly enmeshed with human life–political, religious, aesthetic, whathaveyou], but I think we can also add to these productive reading models other models for reading that might help us to discern better what might be called the uncanniness, or, folllowing Ian Bogost’s forthcoming book, “alien phenomenology” of literature.
Perhaps this also allows us to revisit Derek Attridge’s “Singularity of Literature,” where he asked us to think about developing a responsible-creative reading that “does not … aim only to appropriate and interpret the work, to bring it into the familiar circle, but also to register its resistance and irreducibility, and to register it in such a way as to dramatize what it is about familiar modes of understanding that make them unable to accommodate this stranger” [p. 125]. This might also be to extend Eve Sedgwick’s formulation of a practice of reparative reading that would seek to find in texts a “plenitude” that could then be bestowed on an “inchoate” reader-self [this is obviously still very human-centric].
3. We might also remind ourselves that a literary text is a special object of *mentation* that relies upon its situatedness within cognitive and other “platforms” and “systems”–human and otherwise–that help to make it intelligible. I’m personally not interested in cognitive approaches to reading literary texts [such as the evolutionary psychological approach to Jane Austen novels seen in the recent work of Joseph Carroll, although I find his project and others like it fascinating–it’s just not “my thing”], BUT, having said that, I have a sneaking suspicion that our cognition is co-extensive with literary texts and in ways we do not fully perceive at present, so I’m pretty sure we should also think about texts as autopoetic systems enmeshed somehow with human autopoeisis, and as Aranye Fradenburg once put it in a lecture on Chaucer, “how do we know where the self ends and Otherness begins”? As Judith Butler put it recently in “Giving An Account of Oneself,” it is precisely because I do not fully know myself, that ethics can begin. I would extend this to say that if I cannot fully know myself, neither can a text fully know itself [which is also like saying: the author is never in complete control of a text], and literary criticism today might work a bit harder to analyze this state of affairs, and OOO and SR are helpful because, in Harman’s theory of objects, for example, his theory of withdrawal helps us to see how everything in the world [us included] is fatally torn between its deeper, autononomous “reality” and its accidents and continually shifting, sensual facades: working/mining the rift between the two is what intrigues me, especially when I consider Harman’s comment that it may be precisely because of this rift that anything [space and time] happens at all. As a medievalist, I’m thus also interested in the temporalities [emphasis on the plural] of reading this opens up.