April 3, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 13

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    Journal’s editorial board will debate future of criticism

    By Seth Sanders
    News Office

    Humanities theory hopes to illuminate our culture. But has it been doing that? Can it? If not, what should cultural critics be doing instead? W.J.T. Mitchell and Arnold Davidson, the editors of Critical Inquiry, perhaps the leading journal in the humanities, will welcome the journal’s editorial board to the University Friday, April 11, to publicly debate the future of criticism.

    Some of the renowned critics who sit on that board, including Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Stanley Fish, Fredric Jameson and Homi Bhabha, will gather in Swift Hall on the University campus. If it is unusual for such a collection of high-powered theorists to meet in one place, it is especially unusual, and important, that the public be invited to participate in the discussion at Critical Inquiry’s first open editorial board meeting.

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    Chicago faculty joining the debate

    Danielle Allen, Associate Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures and the College

    Wayne Booth, the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in English Language & Literature and the College

    James Chandler, the Barbara E. and Richard J. Franke Professor in English Language & Literature and the College

    Philip Gossett, the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor in Music and the College

    Thomas Gunning, the Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor in Art History and the College

    Robert von Hallberg, the Helen A. Regenstein Professor in Germanic Studies, English Language & Literature, Comparative Literature and the College

    Miriam Hansen, the Ferdinand Schevill Distinguished Service Professor in the Humanities and the College

    Thomas Pavel, Professor and Chairman of Romance Languages & Literatures and the College

    Robert Pippin, the Raymond W. and Margaret Hilpert Gruner Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and the College

    Jay Schleusener, Co-director of the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities and Associate Professor in English Language & Literature and the College

    Critical Inquiry is a journal of high theory that is wide-ranging in its scope. Recent issues have included articles that explored how the experimental poetry of the 1970s continued the politics of the 1960s; that asked who invented comparative literature; that argued one should distrust quotations in Latin; and recently, in the Things issue, that explained why things (car doors, lost pens, refrigerators, gloves) are just as theoretically important as literature.

    Last year, the Council of Editors of Learned Journals voted the Things issue Best Special Issue. The journal also was honored with the American Association of University Presses’ Best Design award. The Things issue was guest edited by Bill Brown, the George M. Pullman Professor in English Language & Literature, one of the journal’s seven coeditors. The others are Lauren Berlant, Professor in English Language & Literature and the College; Dipesh Chakrabarty, the Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor in South Asian Languages & Civilizations and the College; Elizabeth Helsinger, Chair and the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor of English Language & Literature; Françoise Meltzer, Professor in Romance Languages & Literatures and the College; Richard Neer, Assistant Professor in Art History; and Joel Snyder, Professor in Art History and the College. Davidson, Professor in Philosophy and the College, is the executive editor, and Mitchell, the Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor in English Language & Literature and the College, is the editor. The University Press publishes the journal quarterly.

    The symposium will continue the journal’s goal of casting light on how the big issues of life–politics and desire, who we are and how we make the world we live in–play out on the small stage, through books, art, pop culture and the details of everyday life. The purpose of the award-winning journal’s first-ever editorial board symposium, said Mitchell, is to ask hard questions about what criticism can and should do in the modern world.

    Has it been too political or not political enough? Are we asking the right questions? How has it succeeded or failed, and what is on its horizon? “We want our diverse and multitalented editorial board to brainstorm with the public about the future of criticism and theory in the human sciences. What are the big new questions that will demand special attention in this millennium?” By bringing the highest of high theory down to earth, the meeting will aim to explore the fate and relevance of the old traditions of the humanities, literature, the arts and philosophy.

    By any standard, said Mitchell, the symposium will be an unprecedented meeting of the minds. Moderated by John Comaroff, the Harold H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor in Anthropology and the College, other board members in attendance will include Elizabeth Abel, Lorraine Daston, Teresa de Lauretis, Frances Ferguson, Michael Fried, Peter Galison, Sander Gilman, Harry Harootunian, Jerome McGann, J. Hillis Miller, Robert Morgan, Mary Poovey and Catharine Stimpson.

    The lineup from the Chicago faculty (See sidebar) is equally impressive.

    Mitchell encourages both interested scholars and nonscholars to attend the symposium, and “engage and question some of the most interesting minds in the humanities today.”

    The symposium will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, April 11, in Swift Hall. After several scholars deliver opening remarks, Comaroff will moderate an open panel discussion about the future of criticism.

    Statements by board members about the future of criticism are on Critical Inquiry’s Web site at www.uchicago.edu/research/jnl-crit-inq/main.html and will appear in a future issue of the journal.

    The public is encouraged to read these statements before attending the panel, and individuals also may pose questions to the board about the future of criticism by writing to criticalinquiry@yahoo.com.

    Critical Inquiry, the Office of the President, Robert Pippin and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation are sponsoring the event.