Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics by Cary Wolfe

By Cary Wolfe

Certain in its collation of significant theorists hardly ever thought of jointly, severe Environments accommodates specified discussions of the paintings of Richard Rorty, Walter Benn Michaels, Stanley Cavell, Humberto Maturana, Francisco Varela, Niklas Luhmann, Donna Haraway, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Fredric Jameson, and others, and levels throughout fields from feminist philosophy of technology to the speculation of ideology. delivering American readers a accomplished creation to structures conception and responding to the common cost of relativism leveled opposed to it, Wolfe’s paintings will improve and encourage new types of serious suggestion.

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Meaning is not filtered through what we believe, it is constituted by what we believe. (780) Michaels’s critique of “distinterestedness” is certainly salutary when taken on its own. The problem, of course, is that we cannot take it that way, because Michaels extends (and overextends) it with Steven Knapp into a full-blown critique of “theory” in his later work. ”3 Instead, I want to notice what the polemical brouhaha over the “Against Theory” project obscures: that Michaels’s critique of “distinterestedness” on behalf of “belief” would seem to promise a pragmatist micropolitical analysis of the institutional production of belief on the model of Gerald Graff’s Professing Literature, Richard Ohmann’s English in America, or Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s Contingencies of Value.

Rorty’s response to this commitment in Cavell is instructive enough and funny enough to be worth quoting: “What Cavell wants us not to miss is, to be sure, as important as he thinks it. But does he have to drag us back through Berkeley and Descartes to get us to see it? . ” (177). What is submerged in these lines will come fully to the surface later in the essay, where Rorty argues that there are two senses of Cavellian skepticism: one that Rorty is happy to acknowledge is “as important as he thinks it,” the other — which Cavell sees as tied directly to this first — that Rorty thinks is independent and “academic” in the worst sense.

The problem with this position, however, is that it immediately raises the suspicion, as Rorty recognizes, that “antirepresentationalism is simply transcendental idealism in linguistic disguise . . one more version of the Kantian attempt to derive the object’s determinacy and structure from that of the subject” (ORT 4). Critics of antirepresentationalism imagine “some mighty immaterial force called ‘mind’ or ‘language’ or ‘social practice’ . . which shapes facts out of indeterminate goo”; and so, Rorty continues: The problem for antirepresentationalists is to find a way of putting their point which carries no such suggestion.

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