Blog Post

Critiquing Critique

x-posted from Culture Rover #370.

beyond beyond critical thinking.

In Beyond Critical Thinking, Michael Roth offers an intriguing argument that humanities scholars should turn from offering critique to creating norms. But ultimately it feels like a strawman argument.

Roth creates too strong a binary between norms-creation and critique. There are more supple ways to imagination the relationship between building ideas or values up and tearing them down.

One better question might be, as Joel Pfister puts it, critique for what? Whats the end of critique?

Another better question might be, what kind of critique?

It strikes me that there are many kinds of critique, offered with multiple motivations and goals, and articulated in multiple modes and idioms. There can be sympathetic critique, criticism offered in the spirit of negation, and condemnation offered as insistent refusal. There can be a critique driven by reason and one driven by emotions, and most driven by some combination of both. Critique can be nihilistic and suffocating and it can provide oxygen and life support. There can be the cliched constructive critique and there can be questioning that lingers between rejection and acceptance, and there can be a kind of Trojan Horse critique that arrives in the guise of a gift while actually seeking to destroy all.

Roths article begins to add nuance to the pedagogy of critique. Humanists might do more than teach our students the techniques of dismissal, the ability to locate inconsistencies and holes in arguments and drive a stake (or a truck) through them.

But dismissal and refusal are not the same thing as critique, which might be more elastic, capacious, and perhaps even generative than Roth suggests.


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