No It Isn’t.

Levi writes:

As it stands, cultural studies is dominated by a focus on the discursive.  We here [sic] endless talk about signs, signifiers, “positions” or positionality, narratives, discourses, ideology, etc.  Basically we see the world as a fetishized text to be decoded and debunked.  None of this should, of course, be abandoned, but I do think we’re encountering its limitations….In the few years I’ve been writing on these issues, I’ve been surprised to discover just how hard it is to get people to sense that there is a non-discursive power of things; a form of power that is not about signs, ideology (as text), beliefs, positions, narratives, and so on.  It’s as if these things aren’t on the radar for most social and political theorists.

We have reached the limits of this pose, I would think. Liz Grosz has been writing for years. Marxism never died. New materialisms are not new anymore. I am at a Derrida conference right now (you know, I have those Derrida sympathies), and even in this space, there is no endless talk of the above. OOO offers much, but let’s move past the pose that somehow it’s still the hey day of semiotics. Also, disco, too, is dead.


  1. Grosz and the new materialists hardly get the attention they deserve. Marxism is largely cultural Marxism. Zizek occupies a tremendous place in cultural theory. I’m sorry, but world as text to be deciphered very much continues to dominate the academy.

  2. You are living in a different philosophical universe that I am. I don’t see it. Not in the hundreds of submissions to Society and Space, not on the lecture circuit, not at conferences. People, yes, as “humanists” do work on literature–good! They work on history. Yes! But Grosz is widely cited. The new materialists are widely cited. Jane Bennett’s book is so widely cited, she’s still getting hundreds of clicks on my own blog each week in her interview with me. SR is not being talked about because people are NOT ready for it…

  3. Oh come now Peter, you’re off your rocker. There is a sub-culture of people in the academy that have begun to attend to these things, but it’s hardly at the center. Just look at what dominates faculty wise in the major Continental departments. Finally, I note that you ignore the rest of my post. I’m curious, how do you make room for the sort of material agencies I’m saying we need to attend to in your work. I’m having trouble finding it in your publications. You talk a lot about sovereignty and whatnot, but not anything about roads, waterways, and rivers.

  4. You also seem rather unaware of the grief Bennett has gotten for suggesting these things and likewise Barad and Grosz. They’re all pretty marginalized figures. Perhaps you’re suffering from confirmation bias and happen to be attending conferences where folks are interested in these things? At any rate, if it’s not a problem I’m relieved, but I can’t say I’m seeing that it’s not in the things I read.

  5. Levi, I should point out that I interviewed and wrote a glowing review of Bennett’s book, and wrote the first entries on a blog reading group of her work. I am writing a book on SR, so maybe I see these connections coming up much more. I’m sure there are critics of Bennett, as there are of Barad and Grosz. I like Grosz’s work on the realism of time, but I too have worries: the sneaking in of a certain naturalism to read culture (through Darwin), and I’m also worried (I.H. Grant says something similar) about the use of vitalisms in these theories.

    All I’m doing is something simple: people doing realism and/or materialism are not under siege. Just think of the place of Deleuze in our firmament.

  6. ” You talk a lot about sovereignty and whatnot, but not anything about roads, waterways, and rivers”. I am an English teacher in a technical college specialised in construction, so I do in fact talk a lot about roads, waterways, dams, tunnels, rivers, deserts, skyscrapers, geological strata, climate change. Levi does not “talk” about these things at all, I could not use his writings in my classes, he “meta-talks” about them, which is far different, saying how important they are, using them as examples of what needs to be talked about. I have, however, used extracts from Andrew Pickering in my classes as he is more concrete and attentive to real processes and decisions.
    For further reflexions on this nervous tick of Levi’s see:

    1. Without taking a stand about the above, thanks for the comment.

  7. Because I’m traveling right now and catching this via email kiosk…that’s all. Nothing to read into it.

Comments are closed.