Critical Inquiry

Journal Information
ISSN / EISSN : 0093-1896 / 1539-7858
Published by: University of Chicago Press (10.1086)
Total articles ≅ 3,143
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John Mulligan
Published: 1 September 2021
Critical Inquiry, Volume 48, pp 126-143;

The article suggests that the best examples of textual work in the computational humanities are best understood as motivated by aesthetic concerns with the constraints placed on literature by computation’s cultural hegemony. To draw these concerns out, I adopt a middle-distant depth of field, examining the strange epistemology and unexpected aesthetic dimension of numerical culture’s encounters with literature. The middle-distant forms of reading I examine register problematically as literary scholarship not because they lack rigor or evidence but because their unacknowledged object of study is the infrastructure of academic knowledge production. Work in the computational humanities is approaching a point at which the scale of analyzed data and data analysis washes out readings, the algorithms are achieving opaque complexity, and the analytical systems are producing purposive outputs. These problems cannot be addressed without attending to the aesthetics of data-driven cultural encounters, specifically the questions of how we produce readings/viewings and how they change our perceptions and characterize the interesting, critical theorization on method and meaning that make the best work in the computational humanities legitimately humanistic. I contribute a working example: a recommendation system for passages within the Shakespearean dramatic corpus, built using a large bibliographical dataset from JSTOR, a counting/ranking algorithm used at large scale. The system returns passages as intertexts for the passage a reader has selected. I explain how and why this system provides meaningful intertextual connections within the Shakespearean dramatic corpus by tracing the legible structural effects of disciplinary knowledge formation on the shape of this dataset. I close by suggesting how the computational and more traditional methods in the humanities might begin to stop debating past one another.
Anne Carson
Published: 1 September 2021
Critical Inquiry, Volume 48, pp 1-22;

Tuomo Tiisala
Published: 1 September 2021
Critical Inquiry, Volume 48, pp 23-44;

This article presents a new account of the relationship between Michel Foucault’s work and neoliberalism, aiming to show that the relationship is significantly more complicated than either Foucault’s critics or defenders have appreciated in the recent controversy. On the one hand, I argue that Foucault’s salutary response to some of Gary Becker’s ideas in the lecture course from 1979 should be read together with the argument of Discipline and Punish. By means of this contextualization I show that Foucault’s sympathetic response to Becker is limited to the domain of penal practices, specifically concerning the question of how to resist their rationality of normalization, and thus it involves no broader commitment to neoliberal economic theory or its political implications. On the other hand, however, I argue that there is a strategic allegiance between Foucault’s work and the ascendance of the neoliberal rationality of governing, although it has nothing to do with his sympathetic engagement with Becker’s work. Instead, I explain how Foucault’s focus on the political stakes of subjectivity has helped to congeal, in the posthumous neoliberal context, a conception of politics that leaves out the topic of economic equality. To explain how Foucault’s work has had this unintended yet lasting effect, I introduce the concept of topical exclusion. It designates a social mechanism of producing ignorance, which operates by directing attention instead of creating false consciousness. The strategic relationship between Foucault’s work and neoliberalism today illustrates that this type of explanation is essential in the analysis of power relations. Thus, my account motivates the adoption of topical exclusion as a conceptual supplement that equips the Foucaultian framework to study cases in which relations of power harness, produce, and sustain ignorance, not knowledge.
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