Capital(s) of Critique I – morning (chair Kathrin Thiele)
Sybrandt van Keulen, University of Amsterdam
Creation and critique, both with a lowercase c. The writing of Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf’s practicing of critique is deeply rooted in her talent to call into question ceaselessly the two particular categories ‘man’ and ‘woman’, without prioritizing one over the other. This makes her not much of a militant feminist, but indeed, as Morag Shiach expresses it accurately, Woolf ‘explores the imaginative and political resources of the concept of androgyny’ (xvii). In this respect Woolf should be regarded as a writer who practices transcriticism. This concept is closely connected to Foucault’s definition of the artistic practice of Constantin Guys (Baudelaire’s hero): ‘His transfiguration does not entail an annulling of reality, but a difficult interplay between the truth of what is real and the exercise of freedom’. Foucault hints at the open duality of critical and creative aspects in the movement of self-transgression when he, in the first place, states that for ‘the attitude of modernity, the high value of the present is indissociable from a desperate eagerness to imagine it, to imagine it otherwise than it is’. Shiach, Morag (2008). Introduction in Virginia Woolf(2008), Oxford World’s Classics. Woolf, Virginia (2008). A Room of One’s Ownand Three Guineas. Oxford World’s Classics. Foucault, Michel (1984). ‘What is Enlightenment?’ in The Foucault Reader, (ed. Paul Rabinow), Pantheon Books, New York.
Alicja Kowalska, New York University
Foucault’s Reading of Kant-Critique as the Method of Possible Reversal
In my paper I would like to revisit Foucault’s reading of Kant’s “Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?” Foucault takes up the discussion of Kant’s text, claiming that the question posed by Kant in 1784 still pervades modern philosophy in the form of the question “What is critique?”. One of the aspects of Kant’s text that Foucault discusses is the way in which Enlightenment can be understood as critique. Critique constitutes itself always in relation to something, and, according to Foucault, this feature of critique as that which cannot be essentially pinned down to anything, “makes it a function that is subordinated in relation to that which is positively constituted by philosophy, science, politics, morals, law, literature, and so forth.” In other words critique is a tool of questioning the status quo that is posited by various fields of knowledge and expertise that dominate our lives. On this basis Foucault calls critique “an instrument, a means for a future or a truth that it will not know and that it will not be; it is a gaze on a domain that it wants very much to police and where it is incapable of laying down the law.” My reading of Foucault’s notion of critique will explore its fruitfulness for the conditions of the 21st century as well as its relation to the interventions made by Woolf and Guattari.
Timothy O’Leary, University of Hong Kong
On the Genealogy of Ecological Sensibilities: Three Notes
I bring together Woolf’s demand that we keep thinking the nature of our ‘civilization’, with Guattari’s call for a ‘revolution’ that will be concerned with the small things; in particular, the domain of sensibility. If, for Woolf in 1938, the threat was global war, then for us today the threat is, as Guattari argues, “ecological disequilibrium” on a planetary scale. Woolf, in response to the threat of a world war, suggests a three-pronged strategy involving women’s education, professional life, and ‘outsider’ political action. Guattari, in response to the threat of a different global catastrophe, suggests a three-pronged strategy involving new forms of subjectivity, new practices of sociality, and new forms of environmental intervention. In effect, I suggest, both thinkers place their hopes in the human potential for subjective transformation. Here I will focus on one area in which we see this transformability: the historical variability of moral sensibility. What happens to the sentiments of care, responsibility, and love, when their objects are oceans, forests, eco-systems, a planet? And what is, or can be, the role of critique in understanding these historical shifts? I will begin, firstly, with a note on the idea of “sensibility” and what role it can play for us today. Second, I will consider Guattari’s approach to the transformation of sensibilities, within the context of the project to promote a “re-singularization” of subjectivity. Third, I will take up broader questions about genealogy and critique – within a Nietzscho-Foucauldian framework.
Capital(s) of Critique II – afternoon (chair Birgit Kaiser)
A.B. Huber, New York University
In praise of poor theory
Suppose that the Duke of Devonshire stepped down into the kitchen and asked the maid: “Stop your potato peeling, Mary, and help me to construe this rather difficult passage in Pindar” (from V. Woolf, Three Guineas) This paper considers what one with an aching, and perhaps not entirely voluntary, intimacy with potatoes can say about Pindar, the Duke now standing in her way, and the human prospects for peace that worries the pages around her appearance. What does poor theory as a form of critique have to do with the material conditions, and / or a political account, of poverty? What might a potato peeler have in common with her contemporary, the ragpicker, and what model of critique or resistance emerges from their lives, labors and insights? The poor theory I invoke is indebted to Benjamin’s notion of gleaning, but also to Hito Steyerl’s “poor image,” Julio García-Espinosa’s “poor cinema,” and Gianni Vattimo’s “weak thought.” But we begin and end with Mary, clairvoyent of the ordinary, the low, and the unpoetic- potato.
Iris van der Tuin, Utrecht University
Signals Falling: How Does Reading Woolf and Guattari in Conjunction Generate a Diffractive Reading?
Following the task set by the organizers of Capital(s) of Critique, I have read Woolf and Guattari “in conjunction” (Shaviro 2009) in order to find out that the result was a “diffractive” reading (Barad 2003, 2007). Hence, in my paper, I will be taking a methodological stance with regards to the question of critique and approach the ontology which emerged from my reading of Three Guineas & A Room of One’s Own and Three Ecologies through an epistemological register (in Karen Barad’s terms, I will work ‘onto-epistemologically’). I will argue that both Woolf and Guattari “open[…] up processually from a praxis that enables it to be made ‘habitable’ by a human project” (Guattari  2008: 35), whereas they acknowledge, too, that “adultery of the brain” (Woolf  2001: 191-2) is an actualization of the same praxis. What comes out of the diffractive reading of Woolf and Guattari, therefore, is an ecological epistemology which strives for incorporation (a “for-itself” says Guattari; an “androgyny” says Woolf), but this is a Bergsonian ‘virtual past’ which may actualize in externalizing manners that are harmful for “the destiny of humanity” (Guattari  2008: 44), of non-humanity and of the non-human in us. Given this entanglement of critique and creativity (cf. Rosi Braidotti), what exactly happens when reading is done conjunctively? How are conjunctive and, more importantly given their distinctively posthuman nature, diffractive readings ‘critical’? Do these methodologies have predecessors in the Humanities and if so, which ones?
Kiene Brillenburg Wurth, Utrecht University
Criticality and Creativity: Rethinking the Humanities in Education
Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas (1938) presents a critique of the structure of education as part of the public order. One of Woolf’s main concerns is the disentanglement of education and domination: when students enter the educational system, they threaten to be corrupted by the norms Woolf aligns with Fascism. As an alternative, she envisions an experimental education in a college founded on youth and poverty that enables women to earn their living and think critically. Such a critical education is for her a condition of possibility for an ethical self-forming activity. In the late 1960s, Marshall McLuhan proposed that our educational system was reactionary in so far as it was modeled on the 19th-century factory method, uniform sequential patterns, and classified information. Recently, experts like Sir Ken Robinson have likewise criticized mass education in the UK and US for its tendency to stifle creative thinking and self-formation, failing to meet the challenges of the present. In this paper, I show how the concept of critique is entangled with creativity. I argue that we will need to refocus on creativity in education to explore the ways in which critique can be adjusted to the 21st century.