We dig wide moats around art

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Michel Chaouli: "How curious it is that we dig wide moats - of history, ideology, formal analysis - and erect thick conceptual walls lest we be touched by what, in truth, lures us [in works of art]."

My conviction - one that is shared by a growing number of scholars - is that questioning critique is not a shrug of defeat or a hapless capitulation to conservative forces. Rather, it is motivated by a desire to articulate a positive vision for humanistic thought in the face of growing skepticism about its value. Such a vision is sorely needed if we are to make a more compelling case for why the arts and humanities are needed. Reassessing critique, in this light, is not an abandonment of social or ethical commitments but a realization, as Ien Ang puts it, that these commitments require us to communicate with intellectual strangers who do not share our assumptions. And here, a persuasive defense of the humanities is hindered rather than helped by an ethos of critique that encourages scholars to pride themselves on their vanguard role and to equate serious thought with a reflex negativity. Citing the waves of demystification in the history of recent thought (linguistic, historicist, etc.) Yves Citton notes that they share a common conviction: the naïvety of any belief that works of art might inspire new forms of life. We are seeing, he suggests, the emergence of another regime of interpretation: one that is willing to recognize the potential of literature and art to create new imaginaries rather than just to denounce mystifying illusions. The language of attachment, passion, and inspiration is lo longer taboo (187).

- The Limits of Critique (University of Chicago Press, 2015), Rita Felski