Poetic critique—is that not an oxymoron? Do these two forms of behavior—the poetic and the critical—not pull in different, even opposite, directions? For many scholars working in the humanities today, they largely do, but that has not always been so. Friedrich Schlegel, for one, believed that critique worthy of its name must be poetic. Only then does it stand a chance of responding adequately to the work of art. “Poetic critique,” he noted in his 1798 review of Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, “will present anew what has been presented; it will wish to shape once again what has already been shaped; [the poetic critic] will complete the work, rejuvenate and refashion it.” It is an audacious notion of critique, one that has inspired thinkers such as Walter Benjamin. Yet it is also a notion that has failed to gain a firm foothold in literary studies as it transformed itself into an academic discipline.
Our conference seeks to put new life into the idea of poetic critique, but also to ask about its limits and limitations. What forms might critique take when practiced poetically? What is revealed by it and what concealed? Would it make a difference to speak of poetic criticism rather than of poetic critique? Can this practice be rigorous enough to maintain a right of citizenship in the academy? Might it open the way to modes of inquiry that leave behind suspicion and righteousness? How can it keep faith with the meaning of a work of art? Are there other ways of renewing critique? We invite scholars in the humanities to reflect on the promises and pitfalls of critique, and to consider whether a concept such as poetic critique (or poetic criticism) lends itself to enriching our intellectual practice. We welcome perspectives that not only contemplate poetic critique, but which also practice it.
Confirmed participants: Jennifer Ashton (UI Chicago), Stephen Best (UC Berkeley), Amit Chaudhuri (Calcutta), Jeff Dolven (Princeton University), Alexander Garcia Düttmann (UdK Berlin), Jonathan Elmer (Indiana University), Anne Eusterschulte (FU Berlin), Winfried Fluck (FU Berlin), Eli Friedlander (Tel Aviv), Amanda Goldstein (UC Berkeley), Joshua Kates (Indiana University), Jamaica Kincaid (Harvard University), Sharon Marcus (Columbia University), Bettine Menke (Universität Erfurt), Walter Benn Michaels (UI Chicago), Yi-Ping Ong (Johns Hopkins University), Dennis Tenen (Columbia), Viktoria Tkaczyk (HU Berlin), Georg Witte (FU Berlin).
The conference is funded by Einstein Stiftung Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin and Indiana University.