We, Reading, Now

"We, Reading, Now" invites participants to rethink the status of critique in literary studies.   ... more

"We, Reading, Now" invites participants to rethink the status of critique in literary studies. We seek to explore three key areas of concern—collectivity, method, and temporality—raised by the contentious phrase "post-critical interpretation" and summarized in our title "We, Reading, Now." Who constitutes the "we" invoked in contemporary accounts of the ways we read? What do such practices of reading entail? How do we define, periodize, and consider the historicity of this "now" in which we read? 

In posing these questions, the Colloquy enters into a web of ongoing debates about reading and the scholarly activities carried out under labels like critique, criticism, the humanities, the liberal arts, hermeneutics, interpretation, and literary and cultural study. The Colloquy’s sustained interest in temporality derives from the fact that the authors of its core essays were all graduate students or junior faculty members at the time of writing. As scholars who trained after the heyday of theory, the burn of the culture wars, and the torque of the linguistic turn, these participants have felt called upon to reconstruct the field’s recent past to make sense of the current disciplinary surround. The importance of collectivity for "We, Reading, Now" emerged from similar grounds: despite a wide range of ideas, we shared a sense of generational recognition. What kind of "we,"what kind of new and contingent collective—this Colloquy seeks to ask—can be gathered together in the place marked out by the pronoun?

"We, Reading, Now" grows out of a New Literary History workshop on "Post-Critical Interpretation" held at the University of Virginia in the fall of 2014. Prompted by a shared desire to continue conversations begun in the workshop, its participants have convened this Colloquy. We hope to inspire and collect new accounts of reading practices, accounts that reflect the links between the history of literary study and the ways in which we understand, teach, and talk about literature in the present. As the initial contributions attest, efforts to take stock of critique and to imagine what might succeed it result in divergent narratives, various articulations of relevance, and contrasting intellectual histories. What connects them is the shared historical moment of their conception (now), their interest in whom reading gathers together (we), and their common engagement with how literature is studied (read) during the "turn away from the linguistic turn," the "crisis in the humanities," the moment of "post-critical interpretation," or the perceived exhaustion of the "hermeneutics of suspicion."

Dalglish Chew's picture
Curator Dalglish Chew

Dalglish Chew is a doctoral candidate in English at Stanford University. He is currently a

Dalglish Chew is a doctoral candidate in English at Stanford University. He is currently at work on a dissertation entitled Feeling Critical: Literary Practices of Postwar Critique. His essays have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, and Cultural Critique.

Julie Orlemanski's picture
Curator Julie Orlemanski

Julie Orlemanski is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Chicago. She is co

Julie Orlemanski is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Chicago. She is completing a book manuscript entitled “Symptomatic Subjects: Bodies, Signs, and Narratives in Late Medieval England.” Her essays have appeared in Exemplaria, A Handbook of Middle English Studies, Robert Thornton and His Books, and postmedieval. She is beginning work on a new project about prosopopoeia in medieval writing.

Submit to this Colloquy

Reading for the Moment

by Eric EisnerEssay
What if our accounts of the way we read “now,” as well as our narratives of the discipline’s history, were to set out not from a catalog of eras or turns, but instead from more particularized, more fluid temporalities? more

I'm Just Normal

by Jean-Thomas TremblayEssay
I’m Just Normal[1]     Brooke, played by Greta Gerwig, is the eccentric half of a double act in Noah Baumbach’s 2015 national-millennial fable, Mistress America. More than her physical comedy, Brooke’s rhetorical acrobatics dazzle. The thirty-something gives profuse... more

From Suspicion to Solidarity?

by Stephen SquibbEssay
What comes after suspicion? My answer is solidarity—or allied reading. I prefer this to ‘surface reading,’ ‘generous reading,’ or the ‘hermeneutics of trust’ which Ricoeur originally intended to discipline with suspicion, chiefly because solidarity is strategic, rather than simply charitable, virtuous, or advisable (though... more

Critique, Neo-Kantianism, and Literary Study

by Ross KnechtEssay
  Bruno Latour’s 2004 essay “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam?” positions itself as a challenge to long-standing orthodoxy in the academic humanities.1 According to... more

Risking Complicity

by Mitchum HuehlsEssay
It’s not surprising that today’s authors and readers have changing notions of what it means to mean. more

We Have Never Been Critical

by Dalglish ChewEssay
Via a reading of two fictional dialogues by Bruno Latour, I suggest how generational structures of transmission inflect our attachments to critique, and thus also our understanding of its alternatives. more

Critique: The History of a Premise

by Patrick FessenbeckerEssay
Recently, much has been made of the fact that “critique,” as practiced in literary criticism, is an attitude. It is “paranoid,” in contrast with alternate approaches that seem “naive, pious, or complaisant”; or it is “suspicious,” looking “past the surface in order to root out what is underneath it." But critique is also an argument, and I want to think about the nature of that argument. more

Post-critical Reading and the New Hegelianism

by Matthew FlahertyEssay
One doesn’t need a metaphysics of history to sense when a form of life with its attendant rituals, pieties, and practices has grown old. Theory’s reign in literature departments has long been past the point when its claims arrived with salutary shock in the profession. more

In this Dawn to be Alive: Versions of the “Postcritical,” 1999, 2015

by Nathan K. HensleyEssay
It seems to me that any genealogy of the postcritical undertaken in 2015 should map not just the personal experiences and dispositional idiosyncrasies that have led us to our current procedures as individual readers and thinkers. It should also plot those individual stories within a larger institutional narrative of critical activity in the American academy. more

On Not (Yet) Getting It

by Sarah Tindal KareemEssay
I don’t think that in the English language we possess a good vocabulary for talking about the pleasures of readerly discomfort and difficulty: the feeling that one part of ourselves leaps ahead while another part lags behind. more

Who Cares?

by Anahid NersessianEssay
Near the beginning of Sheila Heti’s 2012 novel, How Should a Person Be?, the narrator—coyly, “Sheila”—recalls a jilted ex-lover’s composition of “an outline for a play about [her] life—how it would unfold, decade by decade.” As her ex rises “in prestige and power,” play-Sheila is rudderless, “always dissatisfied, heading farther and farther away from the good” until at last she... more

Race, Thick and Thin

by Kinohi NishikawaEssay
There has been a noticeable doubling down on critique in African American literary studies. But postcritique is thriving in less-recognized work in the field: namely, scholarship that is oriented around empirical analysis of textual objects and that is animated by theoretical and practical reflection on archival research. more

Hermeneutic Construction

by Julie OrlemanskiEssay
Why do we do what we do? Why do we labor to read, and teach students to read, slowly, attentively, philologically, and speculatively? What are literary studies’ practical epistemologies? My hypothesis is that answers to questions like these are sedimented in disciplinary activity. more

Double Agency: Knowledge | Performativity

by Rebekah SheldonEssay
“What does knowledge do?” exposes our impoverished vocabulary for discussing how what appears political inside of a particular interpretation generates political change in the broader world. Sedgwick’s question gives us license to ask: What if we took these expressions literally? What if discourse is a thing whose unfoldings we can modulate both through its meanings and through its materiality... more