Passionate Affinities: Literature and Networks – Prof. Rita Felski on her forthcoming book ‘Hooked: Art and Attachment’ (Fall 2020)

Prof. Rita Felski (University of Virginia) is visiting the Re- Network as part of the ‘Canons vs. Icons’ series on Monday, December 2nd (Audit Room, King’s College, 5-7pm), prior to delivering the Annual Tagore Lecture in Comparative Literature at UCL. Prof. Felski will be in conversation with Re- convenor Dr. Francesco Giusti (Bard College Berlin/ICI Berlin) on her forthcoming book Hooked: Art and Attachment (Fall 2020), in which she examines how and why we get stuck to works of art and makes a case for attachment as a much-needed key word for the humanities.

As a taster for her upcoming teach-out at Cambridge, here is an excerpt from her conversation with Francesco Giusti published in the Los Angeles Review of Books on September 25, 2019: Passionate Affinities: A Conversation with Rita Felski.

The interview opens with a linguistic shift in current critical vocabularies that Felski addresses in her The Limits of Critique (2015), and Giusti points out, ‘In the last decades, “de-” has been a pervasive prefix in the imperatives to demystify, decenter, destabilize, defamiliarize, denaturalize, decipher, and of course, though not always explicit, deconstruct. In recent years, instead, a new key prefix appears to be spreading: the “re-” of reenactment, reactivation, and, in your own scholarship, the desire to reappraise, redescribe, rename, reimagine, revitalize, recontextualize, and reconfigure.’ Let’s pick up with the conversation, from Giusti’s second question:

Giusti: Of course, I’m not referring to any acknowledged “turn,” but rather to the visible emergence of “re-” words in a variety of fields and disciplines — as if a different critical vocabulary was suggesting itself. My impression is that, rather than implying a pre-established critical task, “re-” words are generally taken to generate unpredictable resonances among a variety of phenomena, methods, and perspectives, without necessarily ascribing an intrinsic value to the critical endeavor itself. With its double meaning of “back” and “again” — which combines intensification and iteration — the “re-” prefix is meant to signal complex movements in space and time, affective attachments, and multidirectional processes with no preset suspicion or intellectual agendas.

Felski: That’s a striking rendition of the force of “re-”! One word that appears frequently in The Limits of Critique — largely inspired by my former colleague at the University of Virginia, Richard Rorty — is redescription. Rorty was fond of saying that significant shifts in perceptions are not just a result of better arguments, but of changes in vocabulary that reveal or disclose reality in a different way. This seems right to me. By redescribing what is commonly called “critique” in literary studies as a hermeneutics of suspicion, I wanted to highlight features that are often overlooked — namely, the role of mood or disposition in the making of critical arguments, as well as a reliance on often formulaic methods.

But “re-” has much broader implications for criticism. In its emphasis on reiteration, for example, it has certain affinities with the language of “post” and “postcritique” — a word I employ with a certain ambivalence, but that has been repeatedly taken up in the reception of the book. Both “post-” and “re-” indicate an unavoidable link to the past rather than any kind of clean break. For this reason, any account of postcritique as a form of anti-critique is a misrepresentation. My own line of thought obviously depends on critique, historically and theoretically, even as it returns to — while also striving to articulate differently — approaches to art that have often been occluded in the last few decades. Your phrase “multidirectional processes” seems very apposite here as a way of trying to skirt the language of novelty that pervades academic life: see, most recently, the promotional discourses around new materialisms, new formalisms, et cetera. One of the things I stress in the book I’ve just finished — Hooked: Art and Attachment — is that I’m not interested in hawking some shiny new method that will redeem us from the errors of the past; rather, I want to offer a different slant on what is already going on.

And here your remarks about affective attachments involving complex movements in time and space are also à propos. One of my aims in Hooked is to wrest the language of attachment away from the ambit of particular disciplines in order to give it a broader analytical purchase. I remain unpersuaded by accounts of why we care about art that rely on either psychoanalysis or developmental psychology and the forms of explanation and causality associated with those fields. Yet I’m also unsatisfied — and I should say that quite a few cultural sociologists share this view — with the attempts of Bourdieu and his followers to reduce attachments to matters of exchange, cultural capital, and struggles for distinction. Rather, I’m interested in offering better descriptions of the many different ways we become connected to art without prejudging some of these attachments as more real or foundational or legitimate than others. Someone can be as tightly bound to a centuries-old painting as to a friend who is seen every day; as intensely invested in the crises of a TV series as in the dramas of their own neighborhood. I want to push back against the view that the former ties are inherently unworthy: escapist or apolitical, symptoms of bourgeois aestheticism, capitalist manipulation, or what have you. And what is especially noteworthy about aesthetic attachments, as you suggest, is their potential to cut across boundaries of space and time.

Read on at

Click here for more information on the Dec 2nd event.

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