— Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters
(first published in Vanity Fair in 1924)
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There is a certain left intellectual position that holds out critique as an unadulterated good.
Critique is superior, more knowing, more responsible than action. Indeed, it’s held up against action, support, enthusiasm, as the more responsible and mature position. What are the presumptions at work in such a vision of critique?
1. That one’s opponent is uncritical—as if the ideas expressed had not themselves been products of critical reflection.
2. As if any and every space were the right space for critique because critique is always right.
The problems with such a view, particularly now, is that they neglect the characteristics of our setting:
1. Constant critique and cynicism.
2. The academy as industry.
3. The need for left mobilization, coalition, and hope.
I have never met an activist or intellectual who didn’t live and breath critique. That’s how we wake up, eat, drink, and go to sleep. We are constantly critical. But in our enthusiasm for critique we neglect the ways we become dependent on its displacements of responsibility and activity, as well as it inner satisfactions of knowingness. For activists and intellectuals, it’s not a matter, now, of being insufficiently critical. It’s a matter of courage and will to push forward. We are already critical, together, in various settings. We don’t need to, and shouldn’t be, critical of ourselves in every place and every time. We need to build ourselves, our confidence, and our mutual trust."
— David Graeber (via lazz)
- michael chabon, “secret skin”