The enchanted world


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The enchanted world
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Gregory, Christian A
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Far too many people have supported me in this project to name them all here, so ll content myself

with naming those whose patience I've tested most sorely. I owe an immense debt of gratitude to

my teachers beyond this university: Fr. John Armstrong, S.J., Ed Brennan, Roshi Bernie Glassman,

Sensei Helen Yuho Harkaspi. For my brothers Scott and George, my sister Kenda, and my mother

Geri, none of whom ever doubted me, even when I gave them reason to, I'm grateful for the

appearance of discipline. To Tamir Ellis I will always be indebted for a home and the world's finest

kitty. I have Jane Love to thank for nutrition. I thank Waits Raulerson for the most uncommon and

abiding love of my life. My committee-John P. Leavey, Jr., John Murchek, Donald Ault, Daniel

A. Cottom, and Robert A. Hatch-made me prove myself worthy of them: short of that, I offer

this dissertation.



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................................ ii

AB STRA CT ........................................................... iv


1 INTRODUCTION .................................................... 1
2 THE ENCHANTED WORLD .......................................... 4

Globalization and Its Missed Contents .................................... 4
The Enchanted World ................................................. 21

3 AFTERLIFE: CULTURAL STUDIES .................................. 53

The Novel, Literary Modernism, and the Popular Aesthetic .................. 61
From the Realism of Experience to the End of Ideology ...................... 86
Sociology, Formal Realism and the Global Public Sphere


The Actually Existing Public Queer .................................... 139
Performing Success: Homo Academicus ................................ 156

5 CONCLUSION: GEOPHILOSOPHY .................................. 173

REFERENCES .......................... ........................... 181

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................................. 196

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in
Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Christian A. Gregory

May 1999

Chairman: John P. Leavey, Jr.
Major Department: English

In this dissertation, I argue that narratives of "globalization" that circulate in media

and academic discussion have, for the most part, substituted a mythic for an historical

view of our political and cultural present. They have done so by passing over the

transformations of public space, the media and civic identity by which the economic

processes of globalization have exerted themselves, and by naturalizing the narrative

forms in which the world story has been told. I've argued that one of the most pernicious

of ideas to attend so-called economic globalization has been the end of the nation state.

Along with this has come the gesture to jettison what the state once claimed as its civic

and cultural prerogatives-among them, public space and social democracy. This

dissertation attempts to revive those ideals in the context of a reconstruction of cultural

studies at the millennium.

In order to accomplish these aims, this dissertation does three things. First, in

chapter two, it reviews "globalization" narratives and develops a counter-narrative to



them. Second, in chapter three, it reformulates a project for "cultural studies" that can

take the cultural, economic and political effects of so-called "globalization" into account.

And, third, it develops an example of the kind of analysis that follows from the results of

the first two endeavors; here I use Jennie Livingston's 1990 documentary, Paris is

Burning, as an example. In all of these contexts, but especially the last one, I make an

effort to reconstruct both ideal and actually-existing notions of public space and civic

identity that inform cultural, social and political life near the millennium.


"Identity crises are connected with steering problems."

--Jurgen Habermas

This dissertation is a lengthy response to and reworking of Habermas' classic

reflection on publicity and public space, Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. In

that famous argument, Habermas chronicled the transformations of media, built environment,

aesthetics and civic life during the "golden age" of capitalism (what Ernest Mandel has called

"late capitalism"). He argued that what Horkheimer and Adomrno called the dialectic of

enlightenment had, under the aegis of mass media, international capital and political

liberalism, all but refeudalized political life. At the same time, Habermas argued, the

evisceration of public spheres had hastened the implosion of the "civilizing project" of

cultural modernity. At ground zero of this implosion was the transformation of the function

of literary culture: whereas in the 18th century, "public use of reason remained tied to

literature as its medium," in the mid-20h century, "the integration culture delivers the canned

'Jtirgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon,
1975): 4.


goods of degenerate, psychologically oriented literature as a public service for private


The limits of Habermas' argument have been well-covered by now, so much so as to

be hardly worth rehearsing here. What is not more generally recognized is the prescience of

this argument with respect to the cultural, political, and ideological formations that encumber

contemporary Northern political cultures and cultural politics. The apocalyptic sense that

sustains Habermas' argument-the sense that, whatever else has happened, both the aesthetic

and political projects of modernity are at risk, if not fully defunct-has served as the ungainly

refrain of so many arguments in the past twenty-odd years. It still circulates today, in a

different pitch, for different reasons, and with a heightened sense of perspicacity, perhaps.

But there still is, as it were, the "sense of an ending" in the present, not least for those who

might once have been fascinated by the object called "literature" and its esteemed political

and aesthetic functions. In part, this dissertation addresses that sense.

But instead of the immediate postwar period, I want to concentrate on the period

since about 1973, the moment when the latest phase of economic "globalization" took off.

I've chosen this moment not only because I think that it marks a decisive turning point in

American political and economic history (and its imagination), but because this moment-the

"long 1973" we might call it-also offers us some purchase on the cultural effects that have

accrued around the notion of "globalization" in the present. Among the most important of

2 Jtirgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry
into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence
(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989): 246.


these effects-cultural as well as political-are those that go by the unlovely name

postmodernistty" Contrary to some accounts of this period, I will argue that economic,

social, and cultural dynamics of postwar Fordism haven't changed so much as they have

intensified and dispersed in the period since 1973. Moreover, the effects of this

intensification still remain subject to a political logic-that is, to some basic question of

political economy. Rather than accept at face value the deflation of political aspiration that

suffuses our discussion of both politics and culture, I think it worth both reconstituting the

agencies through which it has been deformed, and imagining an alternative present to this

vision. In short, Habermas' fundamental question remains: namely, does the ideal of a public

sphere that "functions in the political realm" remain imaginable? Should it be "salvaged"?

If so, how? If not, why not?

In the last instance, this project is not about the damaged life of reason or the elastic

conditions of communication-although those certainly interest me. Rather, it's about

resuscitating a particular view of recent American cultural, political, and social history, one

that neither takes for granted nor fetishizes what has sometimes been called "culture" (or

"society" or "production" . .); instead, I'd like to reimagine "cultural studies" as a form of

notebook utopianism, grounded in the structural causalities of end-of-the-century global

Fordism. In that sense, I imagine that this examination of public space should also give us

a rather disenchanting sense of the cold time that lies ahead for anyone even nominally

interested in a less malign cultural, economic or social future. But even that, I'll argue, is

simultaneously more pragmatic and more utopian, more culturally necessary and

economically nuanced, than many of the options available in the present.


Globalization and its Missed Contents

Towards the end of the last decade of the twentieth century, your average media-

inundated American could perhaps be forgiven for imagining that the seventies had become

the ur-horizon of cultural and political memory. With the re-releases of Star Wars and

Grease, the renaissance of the disaster film, The Last Days ofDisco, 54, Rick Moody's novel

(and subsequently film) The Ice Storm, I Wish I Were a Carpenter, indeed, the entire "sex

panic" farrago, it would appear that the 70's had begun to crowd out the possibility of any

authentically fin-du-siecle experience, save for retro and nostalgia themselves. Talk shows

and MTV became perpetually interested in nostalgia for the 90's, imagined some 20 years

down the road. But what detritus would weather the vicissitudes of cultural time and memory

was anybody's guess; as Peter Braunstein of the Village Voice commented, "nostalgizing the

turn of the century is proving quite a challenge, mainly because 1990's culture consisted

almost entirely of nostalgia for previous decades."1

In one sense, this nostalgia wasn't very surprising, since the generation of forty-

somethings that peopled ad agencies, think tanks, newsrooms and state offices came of

'Peter Braunstein, "Past Imperfect," Village Voice 14 July 98: 152.


professional age in 70's. However, it's also true that nostalgia and retro are political forms

of memory-and forgetting. And so if our North American friend had the uncanny sense of

living the millennium in the fashions of the 70's-or perhaps some amalgam of the 60's, 70's

and 80's-then s/he could rest assured that at least the world economy had reached a

genuinely new phase of development, something the end of the century could call its own,

something that promised to add a little edge to the humdrum image recycling so prevalent

at that moment. For the most part, that something novel-namely, "globalization"-had pretty

much been taken for granted as "the way it is," economically speaking. Only by the late 90's,

and especially after the summer of 98's Wall Street free fall, anxiety appeared to be getting

in the way of what had been a bleary-eyed celebration of the borderless economic and

cultural world. America's public broadcasting news staple, the News Hour with Jim Lehrer,

for example, that summer devoted a segment to the diagnosis of a new malady that had

purportedly accompanied the ascent of the new economy: they called it "globaphobia." And

from the middle of the decade on, there had been a spate of arguments documenting

globalization's not-so-virtuous underside, issuing in nationalist nostrums from the likes of

Pat Buchanan, and neo-Keynesian dreams from William Greider.2

2 William Greider, One World Ready or Not: the Manic Logic of Global Capitalism
(New York: Touchstone, 1997); Pat Buchanan, The Great Betrayal: How American
Sovereignty and Social Justice Are Being Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy
(New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 1998). Greider and Buchanan are but two of the most
visible commentators on the globalization process; see also Saskia Sassen, Globalization and
its Discontents (New York: the New Press, 1998); Richard J. Barnet and James Cavanagh,
Global Dreams: Imperial Corporations and the New World Order (New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1994); Jeremy Brecher and Tim Costello, Global Village or Global Pillage
(Boston: South End Press, 1994); Roger Burbach, Orlando Nunez, and Boris Kagarlitsky,
Globalization and its Discontents: the Rise ofPostmodern Socialisms (Chicago: Pluto Press,


If this image recycling of the seventies seemed but an evanescent swirl on the tides

of cultural fashion, in other words, then "globalization" appeared to be real-indeed, all too

real for many of its subjects. Especially telling, by 1998 or so, was in fact the range of

political personae arrayed against the hoary world of deregulated financial flows: while the

Premier of Malaysia had issued capital controls to stop bets against its currency, the New

York Times had asked Columbia economist Jagdish Bhagwati to say something on behalf of

an arrangement less in thrall to the U.S. and the North.3 Likewise, Tony Blair and Bill

Clinton had both made public appearances announcing the necessity for the North to steer

a "third way" between the twin disasters of welfare statism (more or less equated with

communism) and unregulated global capitalism. And yet, despite widespread disenchantment

with the world order of things, there wasn't much in the way of curiosity about the "global"

world's certainly complex origins, nor a whole lot of illumination in the mass media about

its specific cultural and civic effects. The same New York Times article did observe that

globalization was probably nothing new: since the thirteenth century, it said, capital had

circled the globe, looking for high rates of return; and, as if to put the default of the Russian

financial system in context, the writer reminded us that the United States had even once

defaulted on its international loans. But explanations about the how the U.S. got to be

1997); the crucial account of "globalization" as an ideology formation at odds with the
realities of the world political economy is Paul Smith's Millennial Dreams: Contemporary
Culture and Capital in the North (New York: Verso, 1997): see especially ch. 1.

3 Nicholas D. Kristof, "Experts Question Roving Flow of Global Capital," New York
Times 20 Sep. 1998: A6.

"global" leader, and what that meant for its citizens on a day-to-day level weren't


Most telling perhaps about this moment for our observer was that the very possibility

of any kind of political imaginary derived from the cultural and social movements of the

70's-when, it could be argued, the most recent phase of world economic "globalization" had

begun-had been displaced by what then circulated as globalization's millennial cognates.

In other words, while cultural products of all sorts seemed to revel in the camp value of 70's

excess, our observer's options for political memory derived from that decade had been more

narrowly circumscribed. On the one hand, the fantasy of a new global economic order

brought along with it the residual political affects incumbent upon a post-Soviet world. Even

though globalization narratives really didn't pick up steam until after the fall of the Berlin

Wall, Francis Fukuyama's idea of"the end of history" had more or less been taken up as part

and parcel of the pacific global imagination. Accordingly, it was assumed that the triumph

of capitalism had rendered the class tensions of the old world order both irrelevant and

increasingly less severe. On the other hand, there were the supposed effects of the actual

globalization process: according to the then-current doxa, the global economic arrangement

had brought along with it the end of the nation state, the end of politics, the end of work, and

so on. And so, on a civic and cultural level, what got registered was the sometime exhaustion

of even minimally utopian ideals associated with social movements important to our memory

of the 70's-to say nothing of a longer-term political memory. Indeed, what was startling

about that political climate was the widespread desire to deny political interests or ideals at

all-let alone their 70's manifestations. For example, as Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake


wrote in their introduction to Third Wave Agenda, we "[face] classrooms of young women

and men who are trained by the media caricature of 'feminazis,' who see feminism as an

enemy or say 'feminist' things prefaced by 'I'm not a feminist, but...."4 Likewise, one had

only to look at any of the columns by Andrew Sullivan to be told that queer politics, like the

AIDS crisis, was more or less over.5 And, as the sex panic debates volubly attested, the chic

to forget or selectively remember the 70's became an impediment to imagining a sexual

politics not beholden to a naive, adolescent utopianism, or to a neo-liberal moralism.

In other words, at the end of the decade, there seemed to be a kind of widespread

deflation of political aspiration in general, and, notwithstanding the revitalization of the

Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam, times had grown especially difficult for identity

politics once attached to the so-called "new social movements." At the same time, there was

an uncanny kind of synchronicity between the intense if passing interest in the 70's and the

equally intense if more durable fascination with the world economic arrangement-such as

it was, on the verge of collapse. And, about all three, or the relations between them, there

was a kind of studious silence observed. Were our observer to try and imagine some kind of

4 Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake, "Introduction," Third Wave Agenda: Being
Feminist, Doing Feminism, ed. Heywood and Drake (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1997): 4.

5 See, for example, Sullivan's argument that, instead of "whining that we need job
protection, we should be touting our economic achievements [and] defending the free market
that makes them possible," in "Do We Need These Laws?" The Advocate 14 Apr 98:41-42;
or his thoroughly odious and blinkered view of the end of the AIDS crisis, "When Plagues
End: Notes on the Twilight of an Epidemic," New York Times Magazine 10 Nov 96: 52+.


connection between these three otherwise free-floating phenomena, s/he would be pretty

much on her own, so far as narrative analyses went.

Now, this last could not exactly be called a surprise: trenchant cultural and political

analyses could hardly be said to have ever been the strong suit of Northern-and especially

American-media. Indeed, one could argue that it would be better to just dismiss this silence

as the predictable effect of culture industries rather living up to descriptions that Theodor

Adomrno and Max Horkheimer offered of them forty-odd years ago. However, there was

something more to this mixture of disenchantment, fascination and apparently willed

ignorance, something shared in the academic disciplines called cultural studies. It wasn't just

among the supposed incogniscenti, in other words, that our observer could find a kind of

symptomatic revulsion with the political, a fascination with the seventies, and a sometime

unwillingness to think about global political economy. While there had been an efflorescence

of "cultural studies" work in the U. S. academy since the early part of the decade, and while

its formation had been excoriated in the press under the rubric of"political correctness," this

disciplinary arrangement had also given rise to a particular kind of fear within the ranks of

its own practitioners. Near the end of the decade, Michael B6rubd suggested that this fear

emanated from the anxiety about the political allegiance and dimensions of cultural studies


Roughly half the profession's accusers seem willing to indict any and all
"political" criticism, on the grounds that "politics" is precisely that which is
bracketed or transcended by the monuments of timeless aesthetic excellence.
The other half of the profession's accusers make a more careful case, in which
the politicization of literary study is a problem of degree rather than of kind:
literature and criticism are inevitably entangled in social, historical, and
ideological commitments, but contemporary literary study simply stresses


this aspect of literature too strongly, just as an earlier generation of critics
failed to stress it strongly enough. 6

B6rube describes his own position in "centrist" terms, acknowledging that cultural studies

must look like something of a sell-out to both cultural and political left and right, and

proposing a disciplinary vision of "centrifugal canonicity" that would honor the trajectories

of both cultural and literary studies, "political" and "aesthetic" criticism. Yet his solutions,

however estimable, scrupulously avoid the questions of what counts as political or aesthetic

at this moment, on what grounds, and why. In other words, what had been called literary

criticism had long had political motivations and implications: for that, we only need recall

Lionel Trilling's The Liberal Imagination, or the explicitly political program of American

New Criticism against economically and scientifically rationalized society. In the present of

1998, however, those politics were not at issue, anymore than "politics" or "aesthetics" in

general; what was at issue were particular visions of politics that generated trepidation on

behalf of cultural studies as a "substitute" for some fantasmatically constructed "literary

study" itself.

To put this another way, if American culture at large reflected a kind of cynicism

about liberal political life, then it might be said that "cultural studies" seemed plagued with

a kind of defensiveness, not to say anxiety or fear about its politics: indeed, it might be said

to have reflected a desire not to be political, at least in its American manifestations.

According to Simon During, the editor of one of the most widely-read introductions to

6 Michael Berube, The Employment of English: Theory, Jobs and the Future of
Literary Studies (New York: NYU Press, 1998): 13.


cultural studies, something happened to cultural studies in the 70's, something that altered

the discipline's imaginary to the detriment of its "political" importance. During, in fact,

claims that cultural studies practitioners at this moment "accepted relatively depoliticized

analyses" in their work; he explains this reorientation by suggesting that the "decline of the

social democratic power bloc," the reception of French post-structuralism, the rise of

Thatcherism and Reaganism and cultural studies' increasingly "global" character issued in

a rather willed ignorance of the political and cultural role of the state-and implicitly,

political economy.7 By the time the transformation had been completed, according to During,

cultural studies was left with a fragmented ethos and imaginary that took its cue as much

from Thatcherite denial ("There is no such thing as society.") as from its Birmingham school


It might be said that During overstates the case-certainly, what happened in the

twenty-odd years before the millennium was as much a redefinition of the scope and

meaning of political culture and the terms of cultural politics as their evisceration. At the

same time, even so ardent a defender of cultural studies in its trans-Atlantic incarnation as

Stuart Hall had said that, despite being "dumbfounded" by the robust life of cultural studies

in the United States, he still had some "nagging doubts" about its institutional reception here.

As Hall put it, it was precisely the way that "the overwhelming textualization of cultural

studies' own discourses somehow constituted] power and politics as exclusively matters of

7 Simon During, "Introduction," The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. During (London:
Routledge, 1993): 13-15.


language and textuality itself' that made him worry about both its political and intellectual

capacities. It seemed too easy, Hall wrote, given the "theoretical fluency" of American

cultural studies, to conjure "power as an easy floating signifier emptied of any

signification"-as if power and politics were just two more cultural phenomena on the

semiotic horizon.8

Whether or not these explanations for the current state of cultural studies seem true

now, these accounts, among others, would have suggested to our observer that indeed some

chain of events in the 70's altered cultural studies' self-image, if not its institutional reality,

and that this moment continued to weigh heavily on the imagination of cultural intelligentsia.

Apropos of Hall's stated anxiety, for example, Todd Gitlin argued that the British New Left

in the 70's, like veterans of the anti-war movement in the U.S., found themselves at political

impasse, so they took culture as the field of battle and invested their energies in analyses of

the political semiotics of youth culture.9 Hall himself recalled that British cultural studies

scholars in the 70's were bent on producing "organic intellectuals... with a nostalgia or

hope" that the moment of revolutionary change would find them fit for struggle and perched

on the battlements. He held this image, he said, as the starting point for his work in the

present. Similarly, Marjorie Ferguson and Peter Golding suggested that, in a gesture of what

appears to be "'epistemo-methodological nostalgia,'" there was at this moment a movement

8 Stuart Hall, "Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies," Cultural Studies, ed.
Nelson, Grossberg, Triechler (New York: Routledge, 1992): 285-286.

9 Todd Gitlin, "The Anti-political Populism of Cultural Studies," Cultural Studies in
Question, ed. Marjorie Ferguson and Peter Golding (London: Sage, 1997): 28-29.


in cultural studies for "resurrecting the sociological methods of the 1970's for rediscovery

in the 1990's."10

Wherever we are tempted to lay the responsibility of cultural studies' confusion,

anxiety or fear over politics, and however we might explain the relative importance of the

70's in cultural studies' historical horizons, During's description of the transformation of the

70's points to at least one symptom that has lingered with the discipline until very near the

millennium: cultural studies has for the most part relegated the state and political economy

to second-order objects. As Ferguson and Golding, Doug Kellner, Nicholas Garnham and

others argued, the danger of the way cultural studies configured itself was that, in its

fascination with semiotic and significatory practices, with discursive transformations and

epistemological breaks, it had frequently forgotten about the relations between political-

economy so-called and cultural, social and civic life.1" And while this tendency was often

been borne on rhetoric that opposed the apriori "economism" of older Marxisms and political

economy, it was frequently no less "reductive" of those positions. So, for example, it has

routinely been argued that, since it is bad or mistaken to talk about "simple" economic

determination, it was no longer possible to talk about either "complex" determinations or

political economy itself as an instance of determination. As one writer put it, "the free market

10 Marijorie Ferguson and Peter Golding, "Introduction," CulturalStudies in Question:

Nicholas Gamrnham, "Political Economy and the Practice of Cultural Studies,"
Douglas Kellner, "Overcoming the Divide: Cultural Studies and Political Economy," in
Cultural Studies in Question: 56-73; 102-120.


offers opportunities for new emergent identities and, besides which, capital in the

homogenous absolutist way in which we on the left have tended to refer to it, is itself a more

fractured and fragile entity."12 Likewise, some writers argued that, because the distinctions

between "culture," "economics" and "politics" cannot be sustained on rhetorical or linguistic

grounds, they aren't effective in the actually existing conditions of everyday life: and so

talking about culture is as good as talking about economics, which is as good as talking about

politics, which is as good as talking about culture, and so on.

Needless to say, none of this made understanding the thing called "globalization" any

easier, despite the fact that cultural studies scholars-like New York Times

correspondents-passed up no occasion to refer to it by the end of the decade. However, as

I should like to argue in these pages, this was not really so surprising, since one of the first

symptoms of the arrival of the so-called global world economy had been the persistent

obfuscation of its on-the-ground processes, agents, and effects. "Globalization" so-called, in

other words, was from the beginning a kind of grand misnomer for a very complex

rearrangement of economic, political, social, and cultural life across vast swathes of the

globe, but one which retained the contours of American geopolitical dominance-shared

though it was in the present of 1998. However, that untidy fact-like so many others-did not

register for some who in many other ways seemed to have an interest in world-economic

formations and their more local manifestations. The deflation of political investments, the

looming but historically unhinged images of the 70's, and the unquestioned belief in the

12 Angela McRobbie, "Post-Marxism and Cultural Studies," in CulturalStudies: 724.


already globalized world that I have been describing were but some of the ideological

underpinnings of this apparently novel arrangement.

In describing the isomorphism between what might loosely be called American media

and political culture and the academic field called cultural studies in the 90's, then, I have

not meant to suggest that there are or were no practical, social or ideological distinctions

between them. Rather, it's in the context of those differences that their defacto agreement

or silences have come to be meaningful. Even if pragmatic or ideological responses to

globalization and its attendant narratives have been registered in widespread civic

disenchantment-or disciplinary fear-by the end of the decade, in other words, what

remained to be explained were the relations between 70's economic and political crises, their

supposed "resolution" in the present of 1998, and the concurrent transformations of civic and

cultural life that took place in between. What was-and still is-missing, in other words, from

even some of the more circumspect accounts of "globalization"-as well as cultural studies

discourses-was some account of how it came to this, for one thing: how, for example, did

we come to forget that American hegemony over the world system had been at issue in the

crisis decades? How did "globalization" come to express the consensus-view of a world

circumscribed by the market? How did the ambient political ambitions of the cultural

intelligentsia come to be a liability? Into what wall did the new social movements run? Why

nostalgia? Why, in particular, the seventies? For one might simply observe that, although in

the 70's and 80's social science saw crisis as more or less an effect of impasses in American

(and Western European) development, talk of center and periphery, North and South, indeed

of hegemony itself had been rendered suspect by the end of the decade, and especially in

some "cultural studies" discourses.13 Meanwhile, those impasses appeared to refer back to

another set of problems, "internal" to U. S. political culture: namely, the demise of U. S.

liberalism. If, in the 1970's, at the sometime height of "first wave" American feminism,

Theodore Lowi could proclaim "the end of liberalism" as a prognosis for American welfare

statism, at the end of the 1990's, during feminism's seeming wane, no less august a figure

than Immanuel Wallerstein imagined a geo-culture "after liberalism" and in the retreat of

welfare statist principles and American influence more generally."4 What, if anything, was

to be made of this?

Certainly, it might be argued that academic cultural studies and even leftish

journalism have very little to do with one another, practically speaking at any rate; and they

would seem to have even less to do with trends in Hollywood cinema, American political or

13 I refer to Arjun Appadurai, as one among many who have made this kind of
argument. See his "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy," The
Phantom Public Sphere, ed. Bruce Robbins (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
1993): 269-95; see especially 275. The literature on the crisis of the 70's is prodigious,
especially among writers claiming some affinity or other to Marxism. Among the more
interesting and useful for me have been Samir Amin et. al., Dynamics ofGlobal Crisis (New
York: Monthly Review Press, 1982); Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism, trans. Joris De Bres
(New York: Verso, 1975); idem, The Second Slump: A Marxist Analysis of Recession in the
Seventies, trans. Jon Rothschild (New York: Verso, 1978); hereafter cited as SS; James 0'
Connor, The Fiscal Crisis of the State (New York: St. Martin's, 1973); idem, Accumulation
Crisis (New York: Blackwell, 1984); Alan Wolfe, The Limits of Legitimacy: Political
Contradictions ofContemporary Capitalism (New York: Free Press, 1977); Manuel Castells,
The Economic Crisis and American Society (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980); Claus Offe,
Contradictions of the Welfare State, trans. John Keane (Boston: MIT Press, 1984);
Habermas, Legitimation Crisis.

14 Theodore J. Lowi, The End ofLiberalism: the SecondRepublic of the United States
(New York: W.W. Norton, 1979); Immanuel Wallerstein, After Liberalism (New York: New
Press, 1995): 232-251; 5.


literary culture, and the world-economic dispensation. However, I am not arguing that

"globalization" has achieved its effects (and produced certain affects) by dint of a grand

conspiracy formulated in advance and in secret; rather, I am arguing that, whatever

"globalization" turns out to mean, its discourses have brought along with them a set of

symptomatic effects that have a kind of congruence that, for whatever reasons, appear to pre-

empt some kinds of imagination about the relations between political economy, political

culture, cultural production, and civic activity. Needless to say, these effects are also

accompanied by some (less manifest, in my view) counter-tendencies. But "globalization"

still floats around in both media culture and academic cultural studies as a master concept

that, at some level, claims to explain the world-order of things, even while it disables most

attempts to understand the historically complex causalities that have ushered in both this

order and the discourses to justify it. In other words, "globalization" has become an

extremely popular totalizing concept at a moment that has otherwise jettisoned totalizations

as politically or epistemologically suspect, and it has done so without generating nearly

enough suspicion from the press, economists, politicians, and other intellectuals. That, too

briefly, is where this argument begins.

In such a context, it's difficult to overstate the ways that the "cognitive" location

described by American media and political culture, "cultural studies," and their sometime

institutional referents constrains such a view of the globe. Certainly, for "cultural studies"

practitioners, it has always been important to refuse the ideological baggage of globalization

discourses, not least because these discourses have leveraged a critical part of our cultural

and political memory in the present. At the same time, however, and although it would

appear that the shift in America's position in the geo-economy would be simply a matter for

policy wonks, sociologists, and economists at first tier research institutions, it's crucial for

cultural studies practitioners to embrace the project of rethinking globalization and its

processes. For even the most compelling social-scientific accounts of globalization-for

instance those of Saskia Sassen-hardly make room for a consideration of the ways that

particular kinds of cultural habits or forms impact back on the experience of the so-called

global world economy. Nor, for the most part, is there any sense of the ways that economies

might themselves be understood as belonging to "cultural" history. At the same time, it's now

more or less taken for granted in cultural studies talk that "culture" is at least provisionally

free from the influence of the arcane world of global finance, trade, interest rates, balance of

payments situations, and so on. Of course, in a certain sense, that is true. But it's also true

that, at certain moments, such things definitively shape what we might call everyday life, not

least in so far as they exert kinds of ideological and practical pressure on economic and

political subjects. More importantly and specifically, though, in the last twenty-some odd

years, the processes that have been called globalization have managed to make themselves

felt in part by way of a relentless political reformation of public space, the public sector and

the broadcast media in the U.S. and elsewhere. The agents and discourses of this

transformation have also managed to leverage, by dint of these practical and ideological

changes, a kind of politics "out" of the contemporary imagination. Just what is out depends

upon where you look from, though it appears safe to say that the "left" in its liberal and

socialist forms has been forcibly removed from the current stage of history, at least in the

U.S. and much of the North. The current affective disarray in cultural studies, I'd argue,

registers this set of changes without yet being able to imagine its own relation to them-at

least in historical terms. Indeed, in that context, the problems that attend "globalization"

processes appear to be as much cognitive as political, as much disciplinary as ideological.

And from this vantage, the project of understanding-let alone criticizing-"globalization"

seems to require some understanding of the historical processes that have led to the supposed

overcoming of liberal-socialist political programs and ideas. That task appears particularly

pressing, especially if we want to wedge the cultural referents of erstwhile left-liberal-

socialist politics back into our imaginary, either as dialectical antipode to the millennial angst

and utopian frisson of the current moment, or as an historical reminder of the complex

situation of contemporary cultural politics, political culture and civic life.

What I'm proposing, then, is a project that would address both the ideological or

epistemological problems that have attended "globalization" discourses and their pragmatic

referents. On the one hand, in other words, it's important to resist specious claims about the

inevitability of some kinds of public policy in the name of "globalization." The most

important-and wrongheaded-of the claims that still circulate unquestioned imply an "end"

to the nation state and its civic and cultural prerogatives: among them, public space, the

public sector and the so-called welfare state. Although it would appear to be outside the

traditional purlieu of cultural intelligentsia to say so, I would argue that "correcting" these

fallacies is important to our cultural imaginaries, since they impact the very way we imagine

political dimensions of both contemporary and historical culture. At the same time, it's also

important to clarify the ways that the proliferation and fragmentation of public spheres

through the hypertrophy of corporate media have enhanced state power-the fiction of the

"weak" or "small" state notwithstanding. That's especially important, I'll argue, as the media

and the state are themselves the subject of popular cultural-and political-fantasies in the

present, and since these fantasies go directly to our ability to imagine any kind of agency, let

alone one with political effects.

On the other hand, however, it's crucial to recognize that something has indeed

changed over the last twenty-five years-indeed, since the long 1973, as one might call it.

During this period, public space, the public sector, broadcast and new electronic media have

been retooled according to the demands of a new regime of capital accumulation called

global Fordism. The changes that have accompanied this regime betoken not only a certain

kind of continuity with free trade imperialism-i.e., liberal colonialism-despite appearances

to the contrary, but also the transformation in the terms in which cultural and civic life can

be understood from the U.S. and states in decolonization. At the same time, the geopolitical,

-economic, and -cultural topographies described by this regime contrast sharply with some

topographies of the postmodern that have become de riguer in media and academic

discussion. At bottom, what we are witnessing is not the solidification of anew cultural logic

or episteme but the discontinuous expansion of the means of cultural (as well as economic)

production and reception across vast expanses of the globe. It's the particular discontinuities

and general unevenness of this expansion that makes cultural politics, political culture,

economic discourse and civic life meaningful, or even intelligible, in the present.

With that in mind, I'd like to focus on the rhetorical and practical circumstances now

called "globalization"-if only to delineate more clearly the world picture that this

ideological formation implies. At the same time, I want to keep another narrative-namely,

that of the emergence of "global Fordism"-in view, if only as a reminder of the kinds of

social-historical and cultural limits of that image, and what other kinds of narrative,

ideological and policy choices are available. More than simply "correcting" the suppositions

that undergird public policy and cultural studies discourse, this particular counter-narrative

can also serve as the narrative frame in which cultural studies might understand itself. And

that, I should think, would help us to redraw the limits of cultural studies' purlieu, as well as

its ambitions, at the same time as it reorients our understanding of cultural politics, political

culture and their civic and social referents.

The Enchanted World

The point of remembering something about the seventies, then, isn't the sheer therapeutic

value of coming to our senses about the past, and hence the present, although that's important

too: it's not simply about putting corrective lenses on our collective vision of history. The

larger project is to also to construct something like what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

call "geophilosophy," measured to our hypothetical present: as Deleuze and Guattari put it,

such a project is about the relationship between territory and earth, "two components or two

zones ofindiscernability" that impinge upon each other. In this case: public space (territory)

and the misconstruction of "global" imaginaries (earth) since 1990 or so. 15 And out of

15 See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy? Trans. Hugh
Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994): 85 ff.


that-and a good deal of displaced rage-you could say, this kind of salvage operation is


In April of 1994, when Richard Nixon died, the American press enthusiastically

remembered him as a tortured statesman, driven by his insecurities and a flair for self-pity,

a brilliant, if unscrupulous political tactician whose antisocial figure overshadowed

American cold war history. By the 90's, Nixon had come to be associated with the

culmination of U.S. political disillusionment; even in 70's retrospect, the rabid anti-

communism that made Nixon a name in the 50's appeared as but the psychic counterpart to

his paranoid zeal and obsession with information control after '68. But, aside from the

convenient way that the casualties begot of Nixon's Vietnam escalation and withdrawal were

forgotten, one of the more interesting qualities of the press' accounts of Nixon's political life

was the relative unimportance ascribed to perhaps his most far-reaching economic policy.

In August of 1971, Nixon declared the intention to freeze wages and prices for 90 days,

impose a 10% tariff on imports, and honor the international gold standard no longer. In his

1990 memoir, In the Arena, Nixon made no mention of this policy, even though he spent

pages explaining its rationale and effects in his earlier Memoirs (1978). At the time of his

death, only the New York Times made more than passing mention of the policy, singling out

his ending of the gold standard as "one of the most enduring of Mr. Nixon's foreign policy


16 Thomas L. Friedman, "A Nixon Legacy Devalued by a Cold War Standard," New
York Times 1 May 1994: E4.

Indeed, when Nixon's policy has been recalled in recent years, the wage and price

controls, the tariff on imports and the reduction in excise taxes on automobiles have been

more or less summarily forgotten, in favor of the end of the gold standard."7 But the "new

economic policy," as it was called, combined several strategies aimed at different targets on

the economic horizon. On the one hand, the wage-and-price and tariff policies caught Nixon

on the horns of a tricky ideological and economic dilemma: intervention in the so-named free

market was bad form for anyone who had for so long touted the virtues of liberal capitalism;

at the same time, the wage-price spiral of the later 60's and early 1970 had proven itself

immune to the usual recessionary tendencies. On the other hand, by closing the gold window,

Nixon aimed to head off a run on the dollar that he thought might be triggered by a British

request that 3 billion be converted to gold.'8 Together, these policies appeared to have little

in common except that Nixon announced them at the same time, and that they appeared

mutually contradictory.

Whether Nixon intended it or not, however, these policies both addressed and (in the

long run) exacerbated the contradictions in America's position in the geo-economy near the

end of what has been called "the Golden Age." Indeed, I would argue that the importance of

Nixon's policy was that it interrupted, in a way I'll explain presently, what we might call

'7 See, for example, Steve Forbes' nostalgic claim in 1991 that going off the gold
standard had upset America's world-economic ambitions, and Milton Friedman's defense of
the move in the name of free-market fairness. Steve Forbes, "Baleful Anniversary," Forbes
19 Aug. 1991: 23-24; Milton Friedman, "Free Floating Anxiety," National Review 12 Sep.
1994: 32-34.

Richard Nixon, Memoirs (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1978): 518.


American-style Fordism. However, I want to do so bearing in mind that this name for the

period of postwar expansion and relative affluence in the North also bears with it an

argument about the character of the postwar public sector-a.k.a. the Keynesian welfare state.

For, whatever we might believe in the present about its unintended side-effects, the American

public sector accrued around the political, military and economic contradictions of the

postwar international (i.e. "global") economy, as much as it addressed the domestic fabric

of American liberalism. In other words, what looked like a national Keynesian welfare state

built on a Fordist model of productivity growth also framed the imaginary of American

public space in a trans-Atlantic environment.

Narratives of the emergence and passing of American and European Fordism have

emphasized the transition from inflexible, standardized production economies of scale to

what David Harvey and others have called flexible accumulation economies of scope.19

However, the narratives of the regulation school, as it is called, also speak to the relations

between economic and political life, and social and cultural forms both during and after the

postwar "Golden Age." According to Michel Aglietta, whose A Theory of Capitalist

Regulation: the U S. Experience remains the seminal argument for thinking about Fordism

as a social formation, Fordism accomplished the simultaneous consolidation of the advances

19 See, for examples of arguments that concentrate on shopfloor dynamics of new
agglomeration patterns, Robin Murray's excellent article, "Fordism and Post-Fordism," The
Post-Modern Reader, ed. Charles Jencks (New York: St Martin's Press, 1992): 267-76;
Michael Storper, "The Transition to Flexible Specialisation in the U. S. Film Industry,"
Cambridge Journal ofEconomics 13 (1989): 273-305; Daniel Leborgne, Alain Lipietz, "New
Technologies, New Modes of Regulation: Some Spatial Implications," Environment and
Planning D: Society and Space 6 (1988): 263-280.

of scientific management known as "Taylorism" with a sometimes state-supported social

consumption norm. It was, in Aglietta's words, "an articulation between processes] of

production and mode of consumption. "20 That accomplishment, Aglietta argues, derived from

coordination, both formally and informally, of a regime of capital accumulation with a mode

of social regulation. In the case of postwar Fordism, an "intensive" regime of accumulation

was combined with a "monopoly" form of regulation: together, they produced two basic sets

of dynamics: first, a dynamic of increased efficiency, whereby, either through design or

manufactured technology, the "gaps" in the work day or work progress were filled in

("intensive" as opposed to "extensive" accumulation); and, second, a dynamic of steadily

increasing domestic demand, got through collective bargaining, wages matched to

productivity increases, and what Alain Lipietz calls the ante-validation of labor through

micro and macroeconomic credit. 21

20 Michel Aglietta, A Theory of Capitalist Regulation: the U.S. Experience, trans.
David Femrnbach (New York: Verso, 1987): 117; see, for the supercession of Taylorism by
Fordism, 116-22; hereafter cited as TCR.

21 See Alain Lipietz, The Enchanted World: Inflation, Credit, and the World Crisis,
trans. Ian Patterson (New York: Verso, 1985): xvii, 54-63. There are many useful accounts
of the regulation school, as it is called. In addition to the work of Aglietta and Lipietz, Mike
Davis published an early, critical review of Aglietta's book, which (review) has been
important in shaping my own thinking about regulationist models. In particular, Davis takes
issue with the simple opposition between "intensive" and "extensive" regimes of
accumulation, and argues that elements of both usually function in the same social
formations. See Mike Davis, "Fordism in Crisis: a review of Michel Aglietta's Regulation
et crises: L'experience des Etats Unis," Review 2.2 (1978): 207-69. See also Robert Boyer,
The Regulation School: A Critical Introduction, trans. Craig Chamey (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1990); a very important critical anthology of responses to the regulationist
model can be found in Michael Storper and Allen J. Scott's Pathways to Industrialization
and Regional Development (New York: Routledge, 1992); see especially Bob Jessop's
contribution, 46-69; see also Jessop's excellent critical account, "Regulation Theory in
Retrospect and Prospect," Economy and Society 19.2 (1990): 153-216; for another, very


Lipietz and has further explained the notion of social regulation by suggesting that

any regime of accumulation has also to draw up subject positions-either by force or

consent-that potentially reproduce its relations of production. "Production is also not only

a particular production," as Marx put it. "Rather it is always a certain social body, a social

subject."22 These subject positions don't just apply to persons, but also to states, local

governments, unions, NGO's, and corporations, among others. And, as Lipietz argues, not

every mode of regulation will "work" with a regime of accumulation; indeed, the formation

of different kinds of "agencies"-in the several senses of that word-has to be imagined in

terms of the options available to respond to crisis tendencies and the "normal patterns" in a

regime of accumulation.

In that sense, the gradual articulation of an American Fordism-and its Keynesian

welfare-state cohort-worked on a number of different levels. Just as the New Deal sought

to generalize the conditions of mass production and consumption in America by privileging

productive (industrial, durable goods producing) capital, so the Marshall Plan sought to

rearrange Western European class structure, state regulation, and financial conditions in the

name of an Atlantic unity on a Fordist model.23 It did so not only by encouraging Western

European use of American technology and capital investment to engender an economy

useful critical account, see Robert Brenner and Mark Glick, "The Regulation Approach:
Theory and History," New Left Review 199 (1991): 45-119.

22 Karl Marx, Grundrisse, trans. Martin Nicholaus (New York: Penguin, 1973): 86.

23 Kees van der Pilj, The Making ofan Atlantic Ruling Class (London: Verso, 1984):
76-103; 138-71.

fuelled by mass consumption, and not only by reconfiguring the liberal internationalist and

rentier financial blocs in favor of a compromise with productive (industrial, durable-goods

producing) capital, but also by intervening in European colonialism. The Marshall plan

sought to establish neo-colonial relations with the periphery by encouraging developing

nations toward independence, though without socialism. This was shown early in American

recognition and trade support for Indonesia against the conservative colonialism of the

Dutch, as well as situations in French Algeria and Belgian Congo.

Despite the frequent crises because of its interventionism, the American economy

was nonetheless the lodestar of Atlantic Fordism. The terms of this leadership involved

shifting alliances between political parties, productive and money capital; the rise and fall

of anti-union sentiment; isolationist and expansionist proclivities on the international scale;

postwar military superiority; and the relative position of American currency on the world

market. It nonetheless consistently relied on a regulatory framework that supported intensive

accumulation on a national scale and on a set of programs that targeted particular kinds of

mass consumption. While the FDIC, the New Deal banking laws, and the Wagner Act

established the former, the Federal Home Loan Bank Act, Eisenhower's later Federal

Highway Aid Act and the National Defense Education Acts provide examples of the latter.

As Mike Davis points out, counting perhaps the exception of the Education act and GI Bill,

none of these programs or the framework itself supported the ideal of universal public

services as might be envisioned in other liberal-democratic contexts: rather, they relied on

the state support of mass private consumption as a supplement to a minimally conceived and

implemented public sector. 24

The American postwar public sector, so understood, belonged to a set of relationships

that, while ideologically and pragmatically focused on national, white familial domesticity,

entailed active international ideological, political and military preparedness. As it developed

alongside what Eisenhower famously called the "military industrial complex," in other

words, the public sector subvented both the domestic politics of mass consumption,

suburbanization, racial "integration" and liberal patriarchy, and the international politics of

Atlantic anti-communism. In that sense, it's perhaps crucial to recognize that the Keynesian

welfare state came to be synonymous with public provision and the articulation of a public

infrastructure during the postwar period, but that it crystallized programs dating from the

New Deal to the Great Society, and ranging in purpose from A.F.D.C. and social security to

unemployment insurance, transportation infrastructure and military spending. In other words,

far from expressing a "consistent" agenda, the Keynesian welfare state more or less

expressed the limits of American liberal-corporate compromise during the period. These

limits were also very much the libidinal and political as well as fiscal limits of American

Fordism, as the more recent reorganization of public space in the age of global Fordism

24 On the distinction between regulatory programs and those that set up the conditions
for workforce mobility and mass consumption, I follow Mike Davis, Prisoners of the
American Dream (London: Verso, 1986): 191-92 n7; however, by including the Federal
Home Loan Bank Act, I mean to question whether the distinction might also be used as a
periodizing tool, as Davis suggests. On comparative welfare states, see Anthony McGrew,
"The State in Advanced Capitalist Societies," Modernity: An Introduction to Modern
Societies, ed. Stuart Hall et. al. (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1996): 239-79.


suggests. For it is not this welfare state that has died such an ignominious death at the hands

of congressional Republicans and President Clinton, by and large; rather it has been the tier

of programs whose semiotic charge has been more loaded than its fiscal one, and which have

been made vulnerable by the ideological work accomplished by the intervening Reagan-Bush


The state, then, was the focus of a good deal of cultural as well as political investment

during both the height of the so-called "golden age" and the moment of its passing. Indeed,

the current project of global Fordism-such as it is-has been partly anticipated, if only in

negative form, in the way that the "golden age" and its crisis moment of the 70's have been

imagined or remembered. Business culture in the 60's and 70's, for example, was full of

apprehension about the fate of liberal capitalist economies, especially in what was seen as

their burgeoning welfare-statist form. Robert Heilbroner, writing from the New School for

Social Research, coyly announced, in Business Civilization in Decline, that "Capitalism is

drifting into planning. Is there anyone who can deny the fact?" He continued by assessing,

in a register anticipating Peter Drucker, that post-industrial society would also be "post-

capitalist," largely free of the class antagonisms of 19th-century industrialism.25 Likewise,

kingpin Keynesian John Kenneth Galbraith imagined the efflorescence of postwar political-

economic form as a "new industrial state" that would "replace the market with planning,"

since the market had "ceased to be reliable" for fulfilling its own needs-or those of

25 Robert Heilbroner, Business Civilization in Decline (New York: W.W. Norton,
1976): 17; 63-78.

individual consumers.26 More ominously, Herbert Marcuse described the social system of

interlaced technological, economic and political processes as producing a "comfortable,

smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom" in civic life. "The government of advanced and

advancing industrial societies," he argued, "can maintain and secure itself only when it

succeeds in mobilizing, organizing, and exploiting the technical, scientific, and mechanical

productivity available to industrial civilization."27 Finally, the 1975 Trilateral Commission

report, produced under the direction of Zbigniew Brzezinski and titled The Crisis of

Democracy, treated the coincidence of political "steering problems" and the emergence of

the Kondratieff B-cycle in the U.S. and Europe as both product of and threat to democratic

culture at large. Indeed, what James O'Connor had called the fiscal crisis of the state, the

TLC report imagined as originating in political culture, and in particular in the strata of

"adversary intellectuals" hostile to the "subservience of democratic government to 'monopoly

capitalism."'28 The part of the report about the United States, penned by 70's neoconservative

darling Samuel Huntington, ascribed the growth of state activity and its diminishing

authority to the "democratic surge," the "excess of democracy" in the 60's-and, in particular,

black activism. As Huntington put it in response to O'Connor's argument: "[The fiscal crisis

26 John Kenneth Galbraith, The New Industrial State, 3r ed. (Boston: Houghton
Mifflin, 1978): 24.

27Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964): 1, 3.

28 Introduction, The Crisis of Democracy, by Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington,
and Joji Watanuki (New York: NYU Press, 1975): 6.


of the state that] the Marxists mistakenly attribute to capitalist economics.., is, in fact, a

product of democratic politics."29

In addition to what we might say about its realities, then, postwar American Fordism

eventually drew along with it an image of a quasi-totalitarian mega-state, an image shared

by its sympathetic and oppositional critics alike. This political and cultural consensus about

the state's rather menacing presence in political, economic and civic life was an indispensable

precondition for the announced agendas of the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations-at

least insofar as they have been committed to the anti-statist rhetorical project involved in

evincing international confidence-to say nothing of annoyance or fear. At the same time,

it might be argued, each of these narratives has suggested an image-utopic or not-for the

passing of this state of affairs into our contemporary moment. For example, Mark Lilla has

recently argued-apropos of the Trilateralist Sam Huntington-that the American revolution

of '68 has spawned an excess of democracy, one that has seeped into culture instead of

remaining in politics and the state.30 Or, more plausibly, one could argue, as Stephen Gill has

done, that Trilateralism was a largely American-born response to the perceived crisis of

liberal political culture and the economy.3' As a series of "reports" commissioned by the

North's most adept apologists (a.k.a. sympathetic critics), the Trilateral ouvre both articulated

29 Samuel P. Huntington, "The United States," in The Crisis of Democracy 73.

30Mark Lilla, "Still Living With '68," New York Times Magazine 18 Aug. 1998: 34-

31 Stephen Gill, American Hegemony and the Trilateral Commission (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1990).

Northern interests and described the fundaments of the post-Fordist Atlantic order. It was,

in that sense, not only key to forming an historic bloc that included intellectuals, but also an

adumbration of forthcoming explanations of the real and imagined relations between civil

society, capital and the state. Indeed, I'd say that most contemporary "globalization"

narratives take their rhetorical cue from this body of work, retooled for a post-Reagan world

and dispersed beyond the cadre of policy wonks and sociologists at first-tier research

universities, into the mainstream media and popular cultural representations.

However, by appealing to the regulationist model, I also want to suggest that this

image, however popular and important for understanding the political transformations that

occurred in the 80's, misrepresents the character of American welfare Keynesianism-and,

by implication, its supposedly "downsized," "efficient" successor. As I've already suggested,

and as the brilliant work of Michael Katz has shown, America could only have ever claimed

to have what Katz calls a "semiwelfare state"; its social "safety net" has always reflected the

uneven regional political and economic developments in the United States.32 But more

importantly, as Aglietta's argument suggests, the state at this moment served simultaneously

to legitimate the division of civic and cultural labor and to create the conditions favorable

for capital accumulation. A.F.D.C. and social insurance, the two programs most associated

with the term "welfare," in other words, propped up the demand side of economic equations,

even as American investment in public infrastructure supported the particular forms of

32 Michael B. Katz, In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: a Social History of Welfare in
America, 10' Anniv. Ed. (New York: Basic, 1996): 115-255.


corporate activity characteristic of this moment-what Aglietta calls Fordist "monopoly"

regulation. At the same time, the American welfare state subvented the practical and

ideological distinctions between civic and personal responsibility, public and private, culture

and the economy. Indeed, although Aglietta doesn't make nearly enough of this, this set of

distinctions, as much as any other, has been at issue in new social movements, the more

recent debates about the public sphere so-called, and the neoliberal project of retooling

public space and the public sector.

In other words, the images of both the "welfare state" and its "end" haven't

necessarily referred so much to actual political and economic policies as to the ideological

formations that have attended them. In the present, this has become patently obvious in the

reassertion of the white nuclear family and its demon spawn as the synecdoche of civic life

in general. As Lee Edelman has recently argued, the child has become a pervasive "figure

for the universal value attributed to political futurity," indeed, in such a way as to close off

anything but a conservative, reproductive political imagination.33 This reassertion has taken

place in the context of the more general re-entry of "family values" into political discourse

following Dan Quayle's reading of the Los Angeles riots of 1992, at which time he surmised

that the uprising was mostly due to south central's citizens' failure to have them, and that our

upmost civic duty was to get and sustain them. President Clinton, not one to let chance to

hasten the party right pass him by, proposed new health care initiatives for the poor that

33 Lee Edelman, "The Future is Kid Stuff: Queer Theory, Disidentification, and the
Death Drive," Narrative 6.1 (1998): 19; hereafter cited as "Kid."

target children, much in the way that federal highway construction in the 50's was justified

as "national defense."34 But such pediatric Keynesianism shouldn't obscure the fact that, with

the devolution of welfare services to the states and the revamping the program's goals (to

reduce numbers of recipients, not poverty or indigence), in New York, for example, childcare

for single mothers is nearly impossible to come by, and the Guliani administration refuses

to release its own study on the results of welfare "reform."35

These untidy "facts"-such as they are-have gone rather unnoticed by many

intellectuals, queer and not: indeed, they cast in rather tragicomic relief the symptomatic

civic and cultural amnesia that characterizes the present. In a bizarre twist of rhetorical and

political fortune, for example, Edelman unabashedly takes his political ontology from the

right, since it is the right-and particularly its rabid, Christian partisans-that share his 60's-

vintage Lacanian anthropological-cum-existentialist view of queer identities. At one moment

in his argument, Edelman chides, "While we continue to refute the lies that pervade these

insidious right-wing diatribes, do we also have the courage to acknowledge and embrace

their correlative truths? Are we willing, as queers, to be sufficiently oppositional to the

34 See, for example, Robert Pear, "Aid for Medicaid Children" New York Times 4 Jan.
1998: WK2; and James Dao, "Clinton Details Efforts to Insure More Children," New York
Times 23 June 1998: A 17.

3" See, on the dubious effects of welfare "reform" in New York City, Alan Finder,
"Evidence is Scant that Workfare Leads to Full-Time Jobs," New York Times 12 Apr. 1998:
AI+; on childcare shortage, see Rachel Swarms, "Mothers Poised for Workfare Face Acute
Lack of Day Care," New York Times 14 Apr 1998: A1 +; on Guliani's intransigence and the
administration's strategems to lower numbers of recipients, Vivian S. Toy, "Tough Workfare
Rules Used as a Way to Cut Welfare Rolls," New York Times 15 Apr. 1998: AI+.


structural logic of opposition... to accept the figural burden of queerness... ?" ("Kid" 26).

What all of this means, of course, is not that queers should get involved in fighting the re-

tooling of the welfare state on behalf of the rentier classes, or even that sexual identities or

struggles themselves might be shaped by urban and financial crisis attendant upon neo-liberal

policy, but that they simply "embody" opposition to substantial identities by way of

'Youissance"-whether they want to or not ("Kid" 27). Of course, no one can exactly be

against pleasure, really, which it makes it an easy value to hold. And in that sense, it's much

like the child figure that Edelman takes such pains to rejoin. Still, one might simply ask how

a public space structured around "enjoyment" would look substantially different from the

ones we currently inhabit-or miss.

In any case, in the event, Nixon's announcement of a new economic policy did not

so much alter the Fordist framework or what it implied for the public sector as signal the last

gasp of the monetary and fiscal order that had come out of the Bretton Woods agreements

and supported America's position in the postwar international economic circuit, but whose

contradictions were beginning to show on the American side. At the end of 1970, inflation

was 5.7% and unemployment 6.0%, a combination that, by both neo-classical and

Keynesian lights, ought not to have been possible-at least not for any significant amount of

time. But "stagflation," as it was called, confounded economic orthodoxies of many varieties,

as it signalled not merely an economic but cognitive threshold for liberal-capitalist

democracies. On the one hand, the wage-and-price spiral of the late 60's and early 70's

expressed the inflationary tendencies built into Fordist models of technological and

consumption-led growth. As Aglietta explains, while technical innovation initially tends to


tamp down profits, once it becomes generalized, the rate of profit once again gathers upward

momentum. The problem accruing in the late 60's and early 70's, then, was that while

productivity and wages were going up, the money value of labor represented by price

stopped increasing. While this circumstance would normally produce creeping inflation, the

monetary situation of the U.S. produced other results (TCR 52-61; 306-307). Indeed, on the

other hand, both inflation and unemployment showed a propensity to rise with the rapidly

worsening American international balance-of-payments situation. The account balance

depends, in aggregate, on three things: investment, government spending, and trade. The

American account deficit was largely the result of financing the Vietnam war, Johnson's

"Great Society" programs, and the relative strength of American currency-that is, American

producers' difficulty in finding export markets.36 Together, the domestic and international

situations produced an accumulation crisis that Newsweek, for example, more or less foisted

onto the consumer, whose saving habits were getting in the way of getting profits going


In the televised address announcing the new policy, Nixon demonized the anonymous

international money speculators who, in his view, were responsible for a precipitous

fluctuation in the value of the dollar, and he promised to support productive capital and

American workers, the "real creator[s] of wealth" in the U.S.38 But Nixon was aiming at the

36On international finance, I have benefitted from the discussion in Stephen Gill and
David Law, The Global Political Economy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1988): 159-90.

37 "1971: The Year of the Consumer?" Newsweek 15 Feb. 1971: 55+.

38 New York Times 16 Aug. 1971: A 14.


'72 election, hoping that a "floating" exchange rate would bring about enough inflation on

an international scale to make U.S. exports cheaper on foreign markets and "rescue"

American automakers and durable goods manufacturers from foreign competition.

While the gambit worked on a political level, in the long run it only worsened the

situation for domestic manufacturers, as prices for their own products rose along with

imports, and as nations like West Germany let their currencies float up with the dollar.

"Stagflation," in that sense, expressed the contradictions between the monetary expression

of value on national and international scales, and the need for on-the-ground productive

capital investment and public infrastructure in the national space. In other words, Nixon's

policy helped free up the movement of capital and no doubt boosted reliance on short-term

capital flows; however, the move also signified the beginning of the end of political and

cultural privilege of productive capital on the Fordist model. Of course, this political legacy

would endure through the Carter administration and the Chrysler bailout. But stagflation,

along with the oil embargo of '73, more or less crushed American auto and construction

sectors, which multiplied effects throughout the national economy; the former already

suffered from pressures of market saturation, foreign competition and currency valuation in

the late 60's and early 70's; and the latter was particularly hard hit by the credit restrictions

that attended the floating of the dollar and the fall in real incomes in'73-'74 (SS 51-53). And,

while both American automakers and construction industries would survive-and thrive,

even-during and after the economic downturn, there was to be no "recovery" if we mean by

this a return to the national status quo ante: between '74 and the recently announced return

to economic prosperity, profit margins have been restored (and with a vengeance), but

American Fordism's political, social, geographic and economic realities, to say nothing of

their rhetoric, have been refashioned on a seemingly total scale. What has taken its place is

not so much a "globalized" as monetized, sped-up climate, in which both fixed and variable

capital costs (also known as equipment and wages) have become an impediment to realizing

sturdy profit margins in the North, and the South and Far East have borne the costs of


Using the languages of "Fordism" and the regulation school as idioms in which to

describe the demise and recent rearticulation of a political-economic climacteric, I would

argue, makes sense in a couple of ways. In the first place, Aglietta frames his argument in

Theory by reference to two shortcomings in contemporary economic thought: "firstly, its

inability to analyse the economic process in terms of the time lived by its subjects, in other

words to give a historical account of economic facts; and secondly, its inability to express

the social content of economic relations, and consequently to interpret the forces and

conflicts at work in the economic process" (TCR 9). By looking at capital from the point of

view of its proleptically advanced after-image, Aglietta constantly sees the role that

consumption plays in the reproduction of capital and the experience called "everyday life."

Indeed, Alain Lipietz argues that the contours of any mode of social regulation comprise, in

their own way, the terrain on which "everyday" civic and cultural struggles happen. A regime

of accumulation, Lipietz argues, "must... be materialized in the shape of norms, habits,

laws and regulating networks that ensure the unity of the process and which guarantee that

its agents conform more or less to the schema of reproduction in their day-to-day behavior

and struggles."39 This emphasis also begins to explain the overlapping concerns of some

regulation school writers and Keynesian and post-Keynesian economists: for both, crisis

moments, at least in the twentieth century, are caused by what Marx called a "realization

problem," and so for both coming to terms with the social side of capital's "equations" has

become paramount.

The narratives of the regulation school-or at least those of Aglietta, Lipietz, Bob

Jessop and some others-in that sense also imply that such political economic changes

simultaneously occur on the level of cultural imagination, so to speak. These narratives, I'd

argue, suggest that economic "facts," like cultural objects and political choices, reflect and

allegorize the propositional "content," for lack of a better word, of social life. Indeed, as

Gramsci reminds us, the relations of hegemony are always pedagogical relations-and so, by

my lights, each of these kinds of objects bears with it a set of suppositions as well as affects;

each of them bears on "a political unconscious," if you will.4 As I've been arguing, one of

the components of the semiosis of American Fordism has been the image of a menacing state

apparatus-a mytheme that partly explains the rush to embrace the globalist idiom of the "end

of the nation state" and to abandon defense of public space and the public sector in the

United States. At the same time, this newer view is coupled with a seemingly contradictory

(and not wholly unfounded) belief in the omnipresence of state authority and power. As

39 Alain Lipietz, Mirages and Miracles: the Crises of Global Fordism, trans. David
Macey (London: Verso, 1987): 14.

40 Antonio Gramsci, Selection from the Prison Notebooks, trans. Quintin Hoare and
Jeffrey Novell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971): 350.

1 40

Fredric Jameson has demonstrated by way of films such as The Parallax View, this latter

belief has been in evidence since the 70's and reflects the difficulty of imagining collectivity

at the moment of late capitalism's emergence.4" But such beliefs were also tied to a kind of

millennial imagination that, like the rhetoric of welfare's "end" in our own day, refers as

much to national narcissism as the existence of civilized life. Paul Erdman's novel The Crash

of'79, for instance, imagines "the year the world, as we knew it, fell apart," by way of a far-

reaching set of global financial, political and military "coincidences." Its narrator, George

Hitchcock, an American investment banker who goes to work for the Saudi government,

describes the working of the world political economy as something "just this side" of a

conspiracy: "benign in intent, butrather less than that in execution." Hitchcock confesses that

he initially quits banking because of his disillusion with the liberal fictions of civic

responsibility that go with it. Indeed, he begins with the assumption that the geo-economy

is a fuckingg useless rat race. "42

This expression of disenchantment with the salutary civic effects of finance no doubt

anticipates our political disenchantment in the present, but it also suggests that there's

something to be said about the way that popular cultural forms suggest structural

relationships between historical moments-both as they are "lived" and as they might appear

to another kind of analysis. In that sense, Erdman's combination of millennial angst and

41 See Fredric Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World
System (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992): 45-66.

42 Paul E. Erdman, The Crash of'79 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976): 7, 84,


conspiratorial imagination adumbrates The X-Files: Fight the Future, only in Crash the

aliens are from Iran, Europe, and the Soviet Union, instead of the outer reaches of the galaxy

by way of Texas. Likewise, in the 70's, disaster films-and particularly Irwin Allen's 1974

classic, The Towering Inferno-made a certain perception of economic crisis available for

popular consumption in a way that helps us understand such narratives today. Like The

Poseidon Adventure and theAirport series, The Towering Inferno partly displaces the anxiety

about the political-economic realm onto the infrastructure of capital; whereas the former

focused on transportation (and leisure), in this case, the problem is urban space itself. In the

film, Paul Newman plays architect Doug Roberts, who has designed a dual-use commercial-

residential skyscraper offered as a paean to "urban renewal" in San Francisco. Fire breaks

out on the floor separating the commercial from residential zones of the building, as the

tower's electrical infrastructure cannot handle the load necessary to create the spectacle for

its gala dedication. The tower's builder, Jim Duncan (William Holden), and electrical

contractor, Duncan's son-in-law Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain), have otherwise

conspired to save on the building's construction and pocket the sizable difference for

themselves. By the time the fire is out, Roberts knows of the builder's designs, and he

suggests that they leave the burned-out shell standing, as "a shrine to all the bullshit

happening in the world."

As a narrative of "urban renewal," The Towering Inferno offers a pretty bizarre

picture. The film displaces questions of crisis onto the imaginary of bourgeois lived

experience-such that urban renewal is experienced as crisis itself, rather than a response to

or an effect of it. For the most part, the film appears to be rather indifferent to the urban


history that Senator Parker, chair of the Federal Urban Renewal Commission, alludes to in

his dedication of the building. And the evident "cause" of the structure's crisis is but the

banal greed of builder and subcontractor, a motive that is apparently self-explanatory for the

purposes of the narrative. But the contours of a crisis narrative do appear in the film's

margins. First, there is Harley, played by Fred Astaire, a man who has come to the tower to

meet Lisa Mueller (Jennifer Jones) for the ribbon-cutting party. Mueller lives in the tower

and belongs with the "celebrities of government, television, and screen" that attend the party.

Harley has come back to "the reality" of San Francisco, as he puts it, so he can do the one

thing that he does best: play the stock market. But after a brief encounter with danger and as

the fire threatens the tower's upper reaches, Harley confesses to Lisa that he doesn't have any

money or stock, and that he had come to sell Lisa fake shares in a nonexistent firm. He asks

her to admit she's "surprised, or at least disappointed." She reassures him that she's neither.

Not long after, she dies a spectacular death, falling from a scenic elevator that carries the

women and children from the top floors to safety below.

The narrative accounts for neither Lisa's nonchalance nor her death, though to do so

it suffices to ask a question: how would a skyscraper renew urban space? Or, for whom? In

The Towering Inferno, those who stand to benefit from the structure's "success" are Roberts

and Duncan (and, of course, Simmons); as Duncan tells Roberts, Parker wants to build glass

towers like this one in cities all across the country. But a high rise office tower in San

Francisco could hardly be considered "renewal" unless what has gone sour are prospects for

urban industrial capital. In other words, the film narrates-and displaces-"urban renewal"

as a crisis of profitability, itself very much the lived content of "stagflation" for American

corporate elites in the 70's. At the same time, it could be said that it allegorizes the historical

management of this crisis by the installation of finance, insurance and real estate

sectors-known as FIRE in federal economic report-speak-as the dominant industries in

urban space. Indeed, what could be a better dream-image for the interests of FIRE than a

burned-out corporate-residential skyscraper?

At any rate, Mueller's indifference to Harley's scam testifies to the implausibility of

a distinction between "real" financial investment and its opposite, even after Harley had

taken the trouble to suggest that coming back to San Francisco to play the stock market was

a return to "reality." The suggestion, in fact, is enough to make one wonder if the city

imagined in the film isn't New York, at least as much as San Francisco, as that city's urban

"renewal" at the hands of the Rockefeller family very much brought on its fiscal crisis in

1975, even as it acted to displace industrial working populations, increase profit margins and

rents, reap tax abatement windfalls, and fortify Wall Street.43 The point, however, is that Lisa

dies as a matter-of-fact witness to capital's new modus operandi. When Roberts, for example,

discovers the builder's scheme to skim off profits, he confesses his disillusionment to

Duncan: "I thought we were building something where people could live and work and be

safe." And, by narrative's end, even Duncan has confessed to the error of his ways and vows

never to let this kind of catastrophe happen again. Mueller and Simmons, by contrast, are

strangely immune to this kind of disillusion, and both fall to their deaths while being


43 See, on this point, Robert Fitch, The Assassination of New York (New York: Verso,


In the film, at any rate, the disaster of urban renewal-also, a crisis of profitability,

a.k.a "stagflation" in the 70's-has to be named and judged, at the same time as its principle

form gets saved from the ashes. As the fire chief (Steve McQueen) leaves the scene, Douglas

promises to ask him how to design one of these things, next time-since there will be a next

time. (Evidently, you can't fight FIRE with fire.) At the same time, the utopic social order

that the film hints at is wholly displaced or destroyed, rather than simply marginalized. Susan

(Faye Dunaway), Doug's wife, is offered a job as managing editor at a big magazine; in

explaining her desire for the job, she says that she wants a place where "our kids can run

around and be free," but concludes, by a completely unstated logic (Doug is silent during this

conversation), that she can't have both things at once. Likewise, the affair between publicist

Robert Wagner and his secretary Susan Flannery, very much across class lines,

unceremoniously ends when they are both consumed in the fire.

As I've already suggested, however, what's really important about The Towering

Inferno is the way it imagines all of this as a crisis of "urban renewal." Whatever its gender

politics, in other words, they are "subordinated" in the film's imaginary to the fire-in which,

when it comes down to it, women and children must be saved first. The film's particular

vision, in that sense, has been rewritten, certainly, by contemporary disaster films (Twister,

Armageddon, Deep Impact, Volcano); but it has also been rewritten by John McTeiman's Die

Hard series, in which the multinational character of both urban space and capital serves as

the precondition for commentary on gender and race relations, problems of urban

infrastructure, and institutions of global finance. In fact, each of these films testifies to the

way that the reconfiguration of public space has relied on a reimagination, from all angles,

of the role of urbanity in a new economic situation. For the most part, its value is not simply

as a metonym for industrialization or Keynesian social policy (both held to be residual or

"retrograde"), but also as a place for the rearticulation, in a "new" geo-economy, of a vision

of civic and familial life very much in an older mode.

While I'll have more to say about these films, in general, I'm arguing that a certain

kind of capitalism demands a certain kind of Marxism, one tuned not only into debates about

the history of cultural form, but also to the dialectical relation between cultural forms, social

life and economic transformations. If I'm right about the character of capital at present, it

derives its contours from a crisis moment in the 70's that very much coincided with the crisis

of American hegemony in the world system. It has simultaneously taken its cue from the

problems posed in and by an urban environment that had once attended industrial capital,

which has also, we are told, seen its heyday. However, I think it's important to also issue a

qualification (or amplification, if you prefer) of this set of claims. On the one hand, industries

like automobile and construction were particularly important to the postwar economy, as

they supported the sub/urban-interstate-industry nexus in the built environment and media

tableau, and were for a time key segments of the union establishment. Along with military

production and investment, these industries cast the advances or paralyses of the economy

in their own mold, partly through far-reaching adjacency to industries like rubber, plastics,

steel, glass, and banking; and partly through the ideological affects of anti-union efforts and

media fawning over such icons as Lee laccoca. However, while neither industry has this

ideological or structural priority in the current political-economy (or media imaginary), the

disaggregation of the climacteric in which they thrived has not quite left behind a


"deindustrialized" landscape either.44 Rather, it has meant qualitatively different spatial,

economic and cultural forms, produced in the crucible of an intensified class struggle.

GM's response to crisis of the 70's was its infamous "southern strategy," by which

it moved parts manufacture to the southern states where unions were scarce. Subsequently

GM and others took advantage of the U.S. law that subvented the appearance of "export

processing zones" on the Mexican border, where manufacturers can assemble parts produced

elsewhere with export duties only on the cost of labor.45 However, the maquiladora strategy

was but one example of the way that capital has attempted to cope with a more general crisis

of profitability so-called. From its point of view (quickly adopted by even the Carter regime),

stagflation may indeed have had to do with the dollar's ambiguous position on international

markets, with the on-the-ground effects of the oil embargo, and with the subsequent

recycling of petrodollars to finance the U. S. debt. But it also showed up as bottlenecks that

accrued around "inflexible" fixed capital investments and technologies of production, to

which capital's response has been to call upon what David Harvey has called "flexible

accumulation" strategies. As Harvey suggests, these strategies were not only adapted to old

industries, but subvented "the emergence of new sectors of production, new ways of

44 In saying this, I mean not to question the interesting narratives and analyses of
eighties corporate and state politics from Bennett Harrison and Barry Bluestone, but the
misnomer "deindustrialization"; see The Deindustrialization ofAmerica (New York: Basic
Books, 1982); idem, The Great U-Turn: Corporate Restructuring and the Polarizing of
America (New York: Basic Books, 1988); see also, for clarification of the extent and
meaning of deindustrialization, Ronald E. Kutscher and Valerie A. Personick,
"Deindustrialization and the Shift to Services," Monthly Labor Review June 1986: 3-13.

45 James M. Rubenstein, The Changing U S. Auto Industry: A GeographicalAnalysis
(New York: Routledge, 1992): 238-250.


providing financial services, new markets, and.. greatly intensified rates of commercial,

technological and organizational innovation."46 In industries like semiconductor manufacture,

financial services, and new craft and textile production, as well as in older industries like

auto manufacture, the advantage of organizational "flexibility" has been to avoid "backward

transmission of uncertainty" through rigid, vertically integrated production processes. These

industries and kinds of organization have lent themselves to new forms of urban-suburban

agglomeration and an extremely refined division of labor. Indeed, as Allen Scott has shown

for the printed circuit industry in Orange County and the San Fernando Valley, these

configurations tend toward decentralization and suburbanization of industry, and have spread

to many metropolitan areas in the U.S. 47

In this sense, it's important not to view this as just a "classic" crisis of overproduction,

as Ernest Mandel does, because both the shape and durability of the crisis have involved

geographies and social forms, as well as political timing and decisions peculiar to U. S. class

relations and its position in the world economy (SS 9-42). For example, during the 70's, the

Carter administration, with an overwhelmingly Democratic congress, failed to get through

even moderate measures like Ralph Nader's Consumer Protection Agency and even labor law

"reform" that merely enforced the industrial status quo. These defeats were in part due to

increasing corporate political organization in the Business Roundtable, itself a response to

46 David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (London: Blackwell, 1990): 147.

47 Allen J. Scott, Metropolis: from the Division of Labor to Urban Form (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1988): 112; 105-118.


the regulatory frameworks set down between '65 and '72. While these never could have

succeeded if labor had not already been on the wane and were not "big government" already

believed to be the agency of economic malaise, Carter himself evinced interest in courting

business from the beginning of his term.48 Indeed, it might be said that Reaganomics began

with the Carter administration, as Congress lurched rightward in 1978, capping social

spending, deregulating telecommunications and transport industries, and working for higher

interest rates.

More than that, I should like to emphasize that the rearticulation of American

hegemony over the geo-economy has not, in fact, meant that the important elements of the

postwar Fordist order have simply fallen into desuetude-although the places in which they

were once located may indeed have. Although it is frequently claimed that the world under

sway of global economic forces is both novel and epoch-making, the on-the-ground picture

is a little more humdrum. Certainly, the Defense of Marriage Act's assertion that gay

marriage and not capital threaten white middle-class family arrangements was rather

classically homophobic. But the question begged by both cynical "family values" discourse

and glib queer posturing over "enjoyment" concerns the fictive and real agencies of kinship

and (sexual?) pleasure at the millennium, understood as I have been describing it. In other

words, both "queer" intellectuals like Edelman and neoliberal ideologues like John Kasich

48 See, on these points, Patrick J. Akard, "Corporate Mobilization and Political
Power: the Transformation ofU. S. Economic Policy in the 1970's," American Sociological
Review 57 (1992): 597-615; Kim McQuaid, Big Business and Presidential Power: From
FDR to Reagan (New York: William Morrow, 1982): 298-310; Mike Davis, "The AFL-
CIO's Second Century," New Left Review 136 (1982): 43-54; see especially 46ff.


call on a vision of the heterosexual family that frequently ignores the way that it belonged

to spatial, ideological and social forms attendant upon American style Fordism: at the same

time, then, they miss the particular ways such forms might inflect the "content" of the

supposedly globalized present.

It's in that context, I'd argue, that it behooves us to reread literary narratives like Gish

Jen's Typical American that simultaneously narrate a crisis of "American" identity and the

nuclear family at the end of the "golden age." Jen's narrative paints the contradictions of

American Fordism in now shopworn and cartoonish images associated with postwar

affluence: new automobiles, single-family homes, well-manicured lawns, and so on. But the

critical moment of ethnic and economic assimilation (i.e., becoming "American") comes at

the end of this narrative, when Ralph Chang nearly kills his sister by running her over with

his car, directly after he's discovered that his wife's been having an affair with his former

business partner. As we might guess, the crisis of the American ideal gets masculinized: "He

was not what he made up his mind to be. A man was the sum of his limits; freedom only

made him see how much so. America was no America."49 Just so, the class-laden character

of this national/ethnic identification never gets scrutinized. But the real problem that

underlies both of these has to do with Jen's uncritical acceptance of patriarchal nuclear family

in isolation from larger patterns of social life, and the way that she represents this crisis

against the backdrop of communist revolution.50 In this narrative, the "success" of that

49 Gish Jen, Typical American (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991): 296.

SOne might see, for a more interesting version of this narrative, Rick Moody's novel
(and, subsequently, film) The Ice Storm (New York: Warner Books, 1994); Moody's

revolution becomes the occasion to narrate the formation of the immigrant nuclear

family-absent the context of postwar American international expansion. As I've been

arguing, these levels of experience could be said to depend reciprocally on one another.

Indeed, I am rather more convinced that in this newer arrangement, neo- or global Fordism,

there has been a heteroclite and uneven (i.e., dialectical) but still consistent reorganization

and revaluation of the cultural and social tendencies that characterized postwar Atlantic

Fordism. So even if it would have been hard to predict the turn of events in the 80's and early

90's given the business culture of the 70's, or even if the heady zeal that characterizes the

announcement of the global age and its cognates-including "family values" retrenchment

in the U.S.-couldn't have been anticipated from the age of disco, still, I think, their dim

enchantments ought to be met with a degree more skepticism. As should the unreflexively

utopian impulses of Marxism.

As I've already suggested, the recombination of financial and on-the-ground

processes of production has meant a problem for the organization and cultural imagination

of urban/sub-urban space and industry. As Aglietta argues, however, this problem is itself

part of a broader cohort of symptoms that develop with the concentration of capital in the

financial realm. In his view, the pertinent distinction is not between public and private

finance so-called, but in the "monetary expression of the commodity product and the rights

narrative plays interestingly on the tendency of 90's disaster films to rely on meteorological
catastrophe (Volcano, Deep Impact, Twister) as a way to address history and lived space, and
to rewrite the disaster genre of the 70's. Moody's narrative actually addresses the "crisis" of
the seventies in its ostensible narrative, but entrains with it questions about politics, and
especially Watergate.

of purchase that are acquired over this commodity product by a fraction of the total income

that results from non-marketed activities" (TCR 247). What matters for public expenditure,

in other words, like financial or real estate speculation, is that, even if they produce

opportunities for consumption, they reduce the fraction of surplus value available in the U.S.

to productive (as opposed to financial) capital. By the seventies, Aglietta argues, the

stagnation of real incomes and the regional variation in public expenditure in the U.S. led

productive capital to leave areas with high social costs, and a reverse migration on the part

of workers. While one interim solution to the problem was debt (or, less happily, fiscal

crisis), as I've already mentioned, it also led, as Aglietta argues, to an increasing social

polarization expressed in urban and suburban geography (TCR 249).

As lived from the United States, then, I would argue that "globalization" looks a lot

like the evisceration of a once liberal-productivist political economy in favor of finance,

service and retail sectors; simultaneously, it has meant the restructuring of public space and

civic and cultural life under three inauspicious stars: monetarism, military liberalism, and

media conglomeration. Together, these factors tendentially comprise the historical

preconditions for any consideration of American cultural politics or political culture at the

millennium. Indeed, I'll argue, they help explain the particular kinds of collective

amnesia-or rather, persistent misrecognition-suffered by media pundits, policy wonks, and

cultural critics alike when it comes to imagining political and cultural agency tout court. At

the same time, and whatever the sheer therapeutic value of anamnesia, I don't want to

underestimate the power of forgetting the sordid details of American cultural and social life


in the present: however, it's also perhaps worth noting that some kinds of forgetting are more

intellectually and politically pernicious than others.


In two recent studies of the history of the British novel, Nancy Armstrong and

Leonard Tennenhouse and Michelle Bumrnham return to the scene of Richardson's Pamela

so as to reconstitute the scene at which we might imagine the emergence of literate classes

and the novel. Both studies displace this text as an untroubled site of generic origin, and

suggest that Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative, published in America some fifty years

before Pamela, ought to frame any discussion of the English novel. Moreover, by

highlighting the importance of the colonial context that underwrites the circulation of these

texts, both studies politicize the production and reception of sentimental captivity narratives

as narratives of national identification. Armstrong and Tennenhouse, in fact, suggest that "the

novel [was not] first and foremost a European genre, but rather one that simultaneously

recorded and recorded the colonial experience."1 For Burnham, the "moving quality" ofthese

sentimental narratives refers not simply their emotional appeal, that is, their ability to "move"

their readers hearts, but also their ability to "move" across the Atlantic as commodities, as

'Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse, The Imaginary Puritan: Literature,
Intellectual Labor and the Origins ofPersonal Life (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1992): 197. Hereafter IP.

narratives instrumental in forming a class of readers irreducibly involved in the colonial


Both these studies rely, in one way or another, on Benedict Anderson's notion of an

"imagined community" as a figure for the colonial, imaginary link between readers on

opposite sides of the Atlantic. Armstrong and Tennenhouse suggest that Anderson's

historical reconstruction of the emergence of "print capitalism" encapsulates an historical

narrative of the emergence of social classes willing and eager to identify themselves as

literate; and so it also allows us, they argue, to reinsert "intellectuals" into narratives of

economic and social domination such as we have inherited from Marx (IP 140-44).

Burnham, for her part, finds the specifically psychoanalytic dimensions of this imaginary to

be most important: by recalling these, she suggests, we can recapture the subversive aspect

of the captivity narrative as sentimental fiction--namely, the identificatory ambivalence

structured into the narrative place of the reader (55; 64).

While neither of these studies remains unreserved in using this approach to novelistic

prose-a point to which I will have occasion to return--they nonetheless take the socio-

political dimensions of reading to be critical to an understanding of the genre and, in the case

of Armstrong and Tennenhouse, the origins of intellectual life in general. In fact, it's fair to

say that, in pursuing their questions in this way, both these studies quite reconstitute the old

scene of storytelling itself--at least insofar as they invoke the audience as the story's

2 Michelle Bumrnham, "Between England and America: Captivity, Sympathy and the
Sentimental Novel," Cultural Institutions of the Novel, ed. Diedre Lynch and William B.
Warner (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996): 49.

condition. And both do so in ways telling of more local and recent developments in the genre

of the novel, or rather in the genre of the "history of the novel" as a question for literary

academics. For both take this act of reading, to different degrees, as definitive for formation

of certain social classes who were instrumental in the formation of the early British public

sphere. While for Armstrong and Tennenhouse, the history of these classes remains

inseparable from the constitution of gendered locations of literate subjectivity and political

agency (IP 200-201), Burnham recasts the formation of these classes in terms of the

displaced, fractured character ofthe narratives as they affect their readers (63). For both, this

genre's circulation suggests a way to reimagine notions of class that we derive from

Marx-namely, as referring to the relation to the means of economic production-so as to

take into account a political economy of cultural practices that support the reproduction of

economic capital.

Let us for the moment pose these narratives of the emergence of this genre and its

public as a renarration of the British "example" that constitutes for Jorgen Habermas the first

historical instance of a literate public sphere that "functioned in the political realm." While

the novel would certainly appear to mediate on some level between civil society (the

formation of "classes") and the state (colonialism), it can hardly be said to exemplify the

ideal of universally available, "enlightened" reason.3 As a product of print capitalism and

British colonialism, the novel would already be involved in highly irrational and

3 Jiirgen Habermas, Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into
a Category ofBourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge:
MIT Press, 1989): 57ff. Hereafter ST.

asymmetrical relations of production, distribution, and exchange. Moreover, the generic

limitations of narrative prose fiction make it an unlikely candidate for embodying

normatively defined, transparent political knowledge. Indeed, we might say that the novel

gives us a better idea of the "actually existing public sphere" insofar as it helps us understand

the social, psychic, and political compromises that shape knowledge production in late 17th

and early 18th -century transatlantic culture, than it exemplifies an ahistorical ideal of

"reason." Given that, as Habermas himself recognizes, the literate public sphere is never not

the product of the commodification of information and of the market for knowledge "goods,"

and given that publicity is never not involved in formal limitations or choices, it seems

unlikely that the political public sphere might find itself embodied in the idiolect of 18th-

century narrative fiction--or any other, for that matter. While the "autonomy" that

Habermas ascribes to public intellectuals cannot by any means be taken for granted, a

relativism that would dismiss the very possibility of an "actually existing public sphere" and

"public intellectuals" out of hand must repress the fact that, in the absence of any "actually

existing" representatives of public interest, we are at no loss for actually existing hegemonic

interests, that is, for particular interests capable of representing themselves in public as

"universal."4 In fact, we might more precisely map the problem of the public intellectuals and

public spheres using the notion of hegemony which Gramsci enunciates in his famous

4 See, on this question of hegemony and intellectuals, Antonio Gramsci, Selections
from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffirey Novell Smith (New
York: International Publishers, 1971): 3-43; hereafter PN; I am indebted, on this question,
to the consideration of hegemony given by Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century:
Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times (London: Verso, 1994): 28-29.

remarks on intellectuals. Against the received idea that Gramsci proposes the "organic"

intellectual as an ideal of public "authenticity," we should notice that the "organic quality"

(my emphasis) of intellectual functionaries is strictly relational in Gramsci's view.

Intellectuals, Gramsci argues, are the functionaries of social formations whose infrastructures

always mediate both their relation to people and the "world of production." "It should be

possible," Gramsci argues, "both to measure the 'organic quality' of the various intellectual

strata and their degree of connection with a fundamental social group, and to establish a

gradation of their functions and of the superstructural 'levels'" (PN 12). Gramsci names two:

civil society and the state. Both of these levels are necessary for the exercise of social

hegemony, since, according to Gramsci social leadership cannot be exercised fully either by

"spontaneous" consent in civil society or the use of force by the state. In fact, Gramsci points

out that "the attempt is always made to ensure that force will appear to be based on the

consent of the majority, expressed by the so-called organs of public opinion-newspapers and

associations-which, therefore, in certain situations, are artificially multiplied" (PN80, n49).

While this definition would seem to broaden the definition of intellectuals almost to the point

of making the distinction unusable, it actually has the effect of rendering both the "organic"

and the "autonomous" as wholly relational terms with which to map out the problem of

knowledge production in modem social formations.5 By reimagining the question of the

5 See, on this point, John Guillory's mapping of these poles in "Literary Critics as
Intellectuals: Class Analysis and the Crisis of the Humanities," Rethinking Class: Literary
Studies and Social Formations, ed. Wai Chee Dimock and Michael Gilmore (New York:
Columbia, 1994): 107-149; see especially pp. 130-33.

"public" intellectual by way of the question of hegemony, we recast the debate in terms of

conditions in which cultural, political, and social legitimation of particular interests might

occur--as if they were universal. And we recuperate, in more precise fashion, the political

intent of Habermas' distinction between autonomous intellectuals and their others: namely,

the effects of the "structural domination of the market" on knowledge production.

If political hegemony always bears out the contradictions of the compromises in

which it is forged, then we can be sure that any culture's intellectual corps will evidence

them. As I have suggested in chapter one, the current compromise between the American

state, multinational capital, and American political culture renders public intellectuals as a

kind of contradiction in terms. While on a certain level the cultural disbelief in public,

"universal" intellectuals in favor of "specific" ones might appear more "rigorous" or

"accurate"-pace Foucault-the disbelief itself overlooks that only certain intellectual

functionaries are ever called intellectuals, and that the delegitimation of the very idea of

public intellectuals has furthered only specific political and cultural agendas. While these

agendas might certainly have included some advocated by intellectuals employed by the state

in the public sector, it is unclear that, now that this sector has come under the screws of re-

rationalization, they might be able, quite literally, to "afford" this compromise so easily as

the state and capital.

In this chapter, I would like to reconsider the position of literary-critical intellectuals

within this larger framework, through a certain kind of historical sociology that takes its cue

from the work of Pierre Bourdieu. In particular, I want to return to the suggestion offered by

renarrating the origins of the bourgeois public sphere by way of the origins of the English

novel: namely, that the function of literary critical intellectuals involves a very particular

mediation between civil society, the state, and capital; and, moreover, that this mediation can

be understood by way of a political economy of genre. I begin here with the novel not

because its early forms work to appropriate the authenticity of "news," nor simply because

of the temporal coincidence in our narratives of its origin and that of the bourgeois public

sphere; rather I begin here because the question of the novel's "origin" serves to reorient both

the imaginary of properly "literary" form and the disciplinary function of literary-critical

intellectuals in the United States. That is, the novel serves as the screen for both political and

disciplinary anxieties that crystallize in the postwar university, and particularly in the

publication, in 1957, ofl Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel, a text which still circulates with

an aura of"originary" status, though for reasons that are largely unstated, or misunderstood.

I would like to argue that this text serves not only as a mediation in decades old debate

between the New Critics and the New York intellectuals about the function of narrative

fiction, it also serves as the disciplinary and historical touchstone for studies in popular or

mass culture. In these contexts, as well as the context of more recent history of the history

and function of the literary genre, Watt's text points to the political and representational

impasses on which literary-critical intellectuals have found themselves stranded. As I will

demonstrate here, it does so in ways that are helpful for imagining the relations between

genre, literary-intellectuals and the (now defunct?) bourgeois public sphere.

More than that, however, Watt's text will help me address the particular problems of

literary and cultural studies in a present enchanted by the notion of "globalization." As I've

been arguing, "globalization" has become the implicit and explicit watchword of media and

academic discussion in the last ten years. At the same time, "Marxist" responses to cultural,

political and economic transformations have been forcibly removed from these lexicons.

Watt's argument, I'll suggest, was itself a hybrid response to the so-called exhaustion of

Marxism-another end of ideology-at another historical moment. To a certain degree, I'll

argue, Watt's argument offers us one way to get some purchase on the mystifying and

enabling effects of the "globalized" world view, since it arose from ideological and practical

pressures similar to those that make up the enchanted world. It will not do simply to restate

Watt's questions, nor to restage his response. As I'll suggest, it's also important to rephrase

the questions themselves in light of the ideological and on-the-ground effects of global


In the following pages, then, it is not a question of "rescuing" Watt's text from the

dustbin of cultural history or returning to a more idyllic mode of intellectual production.

Rather, it is precisely because this text is both de passe and, in a certain way, au current that

it facilitates an historical mapping of both the intellectual and the institutional, pragmatic

positions from which we approach the problem of hegemony of literary-intellectuals. I will

continue to stress that this text serves as a metonym for a certain institutional moment, rather

than for the enduring work of a critical genius or a landmark of its own genre; while I am

interested in the way that the sociology of knowledge mediates between the claims of literary

form and a Marxist tradition of letters suppressed in the anti-communist frenzy of the 1950's,

what is at stake in "retrieving" this text is the way that it documents problems of institutional

legitimation for literary-critical intellectuals. By situating its particular impasses within

social and cultural relations of production, we can reconstruct a set of historical and

theoretical questions that will allow us to recast the problem of literary intellectuals after the

"end-of-ideology," and in the afterlife of "literature."

The Novel. Literary Modernism, and the Popular Aesthetic

It has become a commonplace of studies in the history of the novel to make reference

to Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel either as the origin of academic debates about this genre

or as the bad object against which to define one's position-or both.6 Watt, of course, was not

the first to write a history of the English novel, although one would be hard pressed to find

references to any of his predecessors in debates after 1970. In this sense, Watt's text remarks

an important moment in the definition of our contemporary literary discipline. As Homer

Brown has observed in a recent essay, Watt's text might well have been called The Rise of

Criticism of the Novel, as it appears when "what is taking place institutionally [i.e. in the

university] is the American appropriation of English literature as a component of its own

national identity."7 Brown's larger argument for the moment notwithstanding, Watt's text,

6 Armstrong and Tennenhouse make the point about Watt's durability in The
Imaginary Puritan, 201; others who take Watt to be a signal point of departure include
Firdous Azim, The Colonial Rise of the Novel (New York: Routledge, 1993): 15; Lennard
J. Davis Factual Fictions: The Origins of the English Novel (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1983): 5; J. Paul Hunter, Before Novels: the Cultural Contexts of
Eighteenth Century English Fiction (New York: Norton, 1990): 7,31; John Richetti, Popular
Fiction Before Richardson: Narrative Patterns: 1700-1739 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969):
1-22; Michael McKeon, The Origins of the English Novel 1640-1700 (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1987): 1-4.

7 Homer Brown, "Why the Story of the Origin of the (English) Novel Is an American
Romance (If Not the Great American Novel)," Cultural Institutions of the Novel, ed. Lynch
and Warner: 28.

perhaps more than any other, has been the reference point for the ways academics imagine

their own positions with respect to the genre and its history. What needs to be remarked,

however, is precisely the way that it came to define the genre as worthy of inspection at all,

and how we might evaluate its claims in the context of its historical placement in

institutional memory. For the arguments that Watt makes for placing the novel's origin in

the eighteenth century, for linking it to the emergence of what he calls a new middle class,

and for valorizing the work of Fielding and Richardson were not, in and of themselves,

altogether new, at least insofar as discussion of the English novel took place.8 Its innovations,

rather, appear to be in way it frames its questions. And these, especially as they are embodied

in the explanation of "formal realism" and its approach to its audience, can only be

understood by recalling the relations of intellectual production from which this text emerged

and in which it continues to circulate. We need to know, in addition to the fact that the

argument does still have a certain privilege, why and how it continues to do so.

Brown's argument offers us a rather acute sense of the institutional conditions in

which recent evaluations of Watt's work have occurred and how they reflect on our questions

about genre. As I have suggested above, Brown circumscribes the emergence of Watt's

narrative by reference to the formation of national identities. In this context, Brown further

suggests that we can consider American appropriation of British literature in the 1950's a

On these points, one might see Richard Burton, Masters of the English Novel: A
Study in Principles and Personalities (Freeport: Books for Libraries Press, 1909): 1-73;
Richard Church, The Growth of the English Novel (New York: University Paperbacks,
1951): 1; Walter Allen, The English Novel: A Short Critical History (London: Pheonix
House Ltd., 1954): 19-97.

kind of "cultural imperialism" (30), in which Watt only feeds an exceptionalist strain of the

American imagination. Brown's characterization of the effect of Watt's definition of the

genre is worth citing at some length:

Insistence that the novel fully realized its generic identity--that it was
"institutionalized"--by 1750 is also based on a misconception of institution,
not only implying an untenable confusion ofintentionality with fully received
acknowledgement but also tacitly evoking the ideological seventeenth- and
eighteenth-century political presumption of strict genealogical determination.
What an institution was in its beginnings it must always be. What an
institution can become must be fully present in its origins (at least according
to the way those "origins" are politically conceived retrospectively). Aside
from the tautology of this claim in principle, in this particular case it sets a
definite ideological limit on what kind of novel can claim entitlement, and for
that matter on the definition of the very culture that produces and/or is
produced by this increasingly effective shaper of cultural and social desire.

It is quite beside our purpose here to pursue this argument as it pertains to the content of

Watt's argument. What concern us, rather, are the ways that Brown circumscribes the

statements or meaningful silences in Watt's argument within institutions in which it

circulates. As with the claim of"cultural imperialism," the language of literary "entitlement"

would describe the novel in the context of practices whose intentional or incidental results

were the social domination of classes. According to this argument, there is a homology

between the relations of fictional prose narratives that can claim the honorific title of"novel"

in the context of a certain pedagogy and those that, for whatever reasons, cannot; and the

social agents who compose or whose "culture" is represented by those narratives. In this

context, according to Brown, what is missing in Watt's historical reconstruction is some

sense in which judgments about the novel--be they historical, aesthetic, moral, etc.--actively

constitute the literary historical character of the objects that they inspect. Indeed, he argues



that "[t]he fictions of Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding, it could be argued, only become 'the

novel' symbolically by means of retrospective histories that made them seem inaugural and

exemplary at once" (14). Indeed, these fictions, according to this argument, are only

"uncertain" in their status as novels, since Defoe, Richardson and Fielding didn't give them

this name (14).9 But the question remains, however, as to what efficacy Watt's definition of

the novel might have had, coming from the location it did at the moment it did, in academic

culture or literary culture at large in the United States. For it is by no means certain that if

Defoe, Fielding and Richardson had called their fictions novels, that they would have

counted as novels in that context or any other--otherwise Congreve would be among our first

novelists. Likewise, there is nothing to say, even given the institutional privilege of Watt's

definition, that that institution might have defined the novel in general for American

audiences of the novel. Indeed, one might guess that the formation of a field of taste beyond

scholastic definitions is precisely what is at issue in the debate about the "rise of the novel,"

and that we need to account for the disciplinary and cultural arrangements in which Watt's

assertion might have made any difference, much less the rather definitive one Brown

attributes to it.

One of the contexts in which we will have to place this rise of criticism of the novel

is the institutional influence of cultural modernism embodied in both American New

Criticism and the work of the New York Intellectuals. Indeed, despite their apparent

9 Watt argues that Richardson and Defoe did not call their fictions "novels"; see Ian
Watt, The Rise of the Novel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957): 9-10; hereafter


differences precisely over the importance of the novel, these two groups of literary critics

shared a set of cultural assumptions that clearly account for the form and perdurance of

Watt's definition of the novel. American New Criticism, for its part, not only exercised

considerable authority in the definition and defense of literary disciplines from the late

1930's until the 1950's, it also, in this way, managed to redefine both the object and the

purpose of the work of literary-critical intellectuals. While the polemical target of much of

what we call New Criticism was a vaguely defined "science," the literary dimensions of the

New Critics' debates took their cue from the narrative within which their canonical

revaluations were repeatedly made: namely, T. S. Eliot's narrative of the "dissociation of

sensibility." According to this narrative, the poetic sensibility, comprised of more or less

unified elements of"thought" and "feeling" before the middle of the seventeenth century, had

been dissociated--and, not coincidentally, at the very moment of the advent of certain forms

of modem science. What we have witnessed in the interim, between the moment of the

dissociation and the early 20th century, is the decline of literary values in general and the

dissolution of cultural order. That lost order can be understood in two ways. On the one

hand, culture itself implied a sense of order, as Eliot argued in Notes Toward a Definition

of Culture, that derived from religious values and practice.10 As has been well noted, and as

the commentaries on social affairs towards the end of his career suggest, Eliot's vision of

cultural restoration mixes a religious longing for an agrarian past and a contemporary

10 T. S. Eliot, Notes Toward the Definition of Culture (New York: Harcourt Brace,
1949): 19-32.

Christian cosmopolitanism. On the other hand, the cultural order known as "tradition"

appeared in the form that Eliot so famously described in "Tradition and the Individual

Talent."" For Eliot, the attainment of tradition implied an historical sense of both the

"timeless" and the "temporal" orders of artifacts within the tradition. In addition to the right

temperament and feeling, the poet had to have right knowledge of the constitution of tradition

and a kind of practical humility before it in order to be included in it Only in the context of

this first ascecis--Eliot describes it as a "great labour" (T 49)-before the tradition as a whole,

could a second moment of poetic "self-sacrifice" (T 53) occur: the moment Eliot described

as the extinction of personality, in which a poet becomes the media for the combination of

feelings. Eliot's analogy here is between the poet's mind and the shred of platinum in a

chemical reaction between two gasses: "The combination takes place only if the platinum is

present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum

itself is apparently unaffected; has remained inert, neutral, unchanged.... the more perfect

the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind

which creates" (T 54). This depersonalizationn" of aesthetic production bears the weight of

contradictions in the historical and disciplinary imaginary of subsequent New Criticism. For

Eliot doesn't polemicize against the academic disciplines involved in empiricist "science"

as later New Critics do. In fact, as Eliot puts it, "It is in depersonalization," that is, in this

proper performance of the poetic sensibility, "that art may be said to approach the condition

of science" (T53; my emphasis). But which condition are we speaking about? If, to return

T. S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," The Sacred Wood: Essays on
Poetry and Criticism (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1928): 47-59. Hereafter T.


to narrative of "dissociation," we are speaking ofa moment when the faculties ofthoughtand

feeling were unified, the mid-seventeenth century, we are also speaking of a moment when

literary techne was education or intellectual activity itself, rather than one disciplinary

subspecialty among others. As Eliot's remarks in the "The Perfect Critic" suggest, the

proliferation of fields after the dissociation precipitates the symptom of dissociated

sensibility par excellence--the substitution of emotion for thought:

The vast accumulations of knowledge.., deposited by the nineteenth century
have been responsible for an equally vast ignorance. When there is so much
to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same
words are used with different meanings... it becomes increasingly difficult
for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And
when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to
substitute emotions for thoughts.'2

In "Tradition and the Individual Talent," Eliot's polemical target is not "science" but

everything that would prevent poetic enunciation and sensibility from attaining the

fantasmatically constructed social and cultural condition of science. For, like "literary"

knowledge before the dissociation of sensibility, science exerts cultural and social hegemony

through the efficacious power of its enunciations, which, according to this fantasy, are

devoid of referential uncertainty, personal evaluation or heterodoxy in general. Like the

poetic performances endorsed by Eliot, in other words, scientific enunciations claim their

authority through their adherence to a particularform, a form which conditions not only the

poetic or scientific ascecis by which tradition might be transmitted, but also the social

orthodoxy necessary to exert and reproduce its authority.

12 T. S. Eliot, "The Perfect Critic," The Sacred Wood, 9. Hereafter PC.


We can recognize in Eliot's notion of "tradition," then, a fantasy of order which

moves between two quite different institutional locations of authority and knowledge. As

John Guillory has demonstrated, this tradition derives its form from Matthew Arnold's

tendency to regard cultural tradition and literary sensibility as replacements for religious

tradition and orthodox belief. This Amrnoldian vision appears in Eliot's work as the necessity

to enter cultural evaluations into the field of opinion cast in terms of Christian doctrine, that

is, of"orthodoxy" and "heresy." Guillory's argument, in this respect, casts some light on the

ease with which Eliot might also invoke the authority of "science" in the context of this

tradition; for if literature and literary sensibility are to have Christian beliefs at their

foundation, as Eliot believed, without themselves being consciously Christian, then literature

would at once stand in the place of orthodoxy, that is, stand in for beliefs that are no longer

dominant, as a testament to the absence of doxa, and, as Guillory puts it, be "free-floating,

curiously deracinated in its relation to beliefs." In this sense, he argues, "literature itself can

be installed as a sensibility that performs the social function of doxa . without ever

requiring the 'imperfect' supplement of orthodoxy, without specifying directly what its

beliefs are."'13 Indeed, it was possible for Eliot to find in science an imagined position of

social and cultural hegemony precisely because it functioned, in this context, as an analogue

for religious doxa, at least insofar as he imagined it to function according to unquestioned

beliefs and methods, and, as the later New Critics and humanities scholars in general also

imagined, as having unquestioned value and no specified content except for being

13 John Guillory, Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation
(Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1993): 138. Hereafter CC.

"scientific." Like literature as Eliot imagines it, science functions simultaneously as the

evidence of the absence of doxa-so it needs no orthodoxy-and as the social embodiment

of a wholly formal doxa, that has no contents.

The distinction between the field of science and that of literature or literary criticism--

or any other field--according to Eliot's vision, comes down to form or, what is the same thing

for Eliot, medium. As Eliot suggests in the "Tradition" essay, the affirmation of poetic form

is accomplished for the poet only in the "self-sacrifice" necessary for ascension into tradition,

and it recapitulates the association of sensibility in making the poet the medium of tradition

itself: "The point of view which I am struggling to attack is perhaps related to the

metaphysical theory of the substantial unity of the soul: for my meaning is, that the poet has,

not a 'personality' to express, but a particular medium, which is only a medium and not a

personality" (T 56). And very much the same could be said of the literary critic, whose

relation to his aesthetic "impressions" mimics that of the poet to the objects that constitute

the tradition. "The new impressions" that the critic receives from confrontation with the

work of art "modify the impressions received from the objects already known. An impression

... needs to take its place in a system of impressions" (PC 14). And this formation of the

critic also mimics the association of sensibility, only in terms of the aesthetic appreciation

and knowledge:

I believe that it is always opportune to call attention to the torpid superstition
that appreciation is one thing, and "intellectual" criticism something else.
Appreciation in popular psychology is one faculty, and criticism another, an
arid cleverness building theoretical scaffolds upon one's own perceptions or
those of others. On the contrary, the true generalization is not something
superposed upon an accumulation of perceptions; the perceptions do not, in


a really appreciative mind, accumulate as a mass, but form themselves as a
structure; it is a development of sensibility. (PC 15)

The necessity to insist on the unity of the faculties (appreciation, criticism) emerges, on one

institutional level, in the historical conflict over the form and shape of literary discipline,

namely, between generalists and the scholars or philologists. As Gerald Graff argues, in the

late 19th century, the generalists were the inheritors not only of a spirit of American

transcendentalism, but also of the Amoldian vision of tradition. They adopted, much like

their later New Critical counterparts, both the assumption that they ought to exert cultural--

and, hence, national--leadership, and a "reactionary outlook that scorned the vulgarity of the

masses."'14 Eliot's comments on the opposition of appreciation to "intellectual" criticism

reflects the development, between 1915 and 1930, of "criticism" as a disciplinary option

between generalist cultural criticism and philological scholarship (P 121-26). American New

Criticism, as one splinter faction of critics, enunciated both an "intellectual"

countermethodology to the philological study and, quite simultaneously, a narrative of

literary history that re-evaluated the corpus of studied works. But we can ratify Graft's

explanation here without fully exhausting the rationalization that Eliot gives for both the

existence and the function of the perfect critic. If the poet's function is to express a medium--

let us assume for the moment, the medium of poetic form--then what is the critic's function?

That is, what is the critic's medium? Eliot explains in the final paragraph of "The Perfect


14 Gerald Graft, Professing Literature: An Institutional History (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1987): 83. Hereafter P.


The writer of the present essay once committed himself to the statement that
"The poetic critic is criticizing poetry in order to create poetry." He is now
inclined to believe that the "historical" and the "philosophical" critics had
better be called historians and philosophers quite simply. As for the rest,
there are merely various degrees of intelligence. It is fatuous to say that
criticism is for the sake of "creation" or creation for the sake of criticism...
The two directions of sensibility are complementary; and as sensibility is
rare, unpopular, and desirable, it is to be expected that the critic and the
creative artist should frequently be the same person. (PC 16)

Eliot addresses the problem among competing disciplinary variants of criticism by way of

modulating the problem of its unity. The dissociation of sensibility between the critical and

the creative discharges questions about the historical conditions in which the "rare"

combination of the poet and the critic has been likely to happen. But it also belies the sense

in which, despite--or perhaps because of--the dissocation of sensibility, that unified

sensibility becomes the medium to which poet and critic both consciously aspire. The social

conditions in which this associated sensibility occurred are more than coincidentally related

to those that immediately preceded what Watt called "the rise of the novel"--that is, the

formation of a "new middle class," the flourishing of "print capital," the rise ofjournalism,

and the development of English vernacular education. According to Eliot, poet and critic

share the task of "expressing" a sensibility, one that inculcates and condenses a social and

historical fantasy of the position of the literary intellectual as the intellectual in general, and,

moreover, as the most prestigious kind of intellectual functionary.

The specific dimensions and importance of this fantasy come into focus if we recall

precisely how the university functions as a social space in this imaginary. It is perhaps

enough to notice that it doesn't appear at all as mediating "tradition" in any of Eliot's

arguments. Indeed, this is all the more surprising given the way it functions for two of Eliot's


cultural descendants--F. R. Leavis and R. P. Blackmur. For Leavis, the moment of the

dissociation of sensibility was not simply the division of the faculties within the intellectual

himself, but of the intellectual minority's fall from "organic" relation to the majority

"popular" culture. At the moment of this disintegration, the seventeenth century, intellectual

minority culture became rootless, and culture at large divided into a host of forms that we

recognize now as "high" culture and "low" or popular culture. For Leavis, however,

intellectuals have a special burden of responsibility in this situation, and their coming to

roost in universities is but the culmination of this division; indeed, the "critical revolution"

in English studies at Cambridge that Leavis was associated with became, in his view,

threatened with a narrow academicism to which the formation of Scrutiny was the response. 15

For the New Critics, the university was a space of adversarial culture--that is, the very place

where literary-critical intellectuals should carry out the dis-organization of minority from

popular or mass culture. Indeed, what's telling is the way that R. P. Blackmur-who,

ironically, never even finished his course of study in Boston's public schools-couches the

justification of the university as a site for what he calls the professional writer in "A Feather

Bed for Critics." He does this in terms that, while referring to different dates than Eliot's

historical narrative, nonetheless refer to its function as sustaining a simultaneously

minoritarian intellectual and social position. Blackmur regards the support of the profession

of letters as a natural development of the university devoted to liberal education; he says that

15 F. R. Leavis, Mass Civilization and Minority Culture (Cambridge: Minority Press,
1930). Francis Mulhem, The Moment of Scrutiny (London: New Left Books, 1979): 28-34;
77. Hereafter S.


"[t]he university is at least the only obvious overt institution both sturdy and elastic enough,

capable and remotely willing to furnish such a connection" between the arts and society.16

"If the consequence [of bringing writers to the university to teach the profession of writing]

were only to renew generally the respect felt in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries

for men of letters, there might well again come to be a race of men of letters, and a race of

writers.., who were well educated as well as handy in their profession" (F 405). Blackmur's

narrative, like Leavis', suggests how the institutional space of the university might assist in

the fantasmatic recuperation of intellectual position that could reinforce, in the present

context, a cultural and social distinction like the one between those who in the eighteenth-

century received "vernacular" education by way of charity schools or dissenting mixed

curricula academies and those who received classical training and proceeded to Oxford or

Cambridge.17 In the contemporary context, and more than simply reproducing a vision of

"highbrow" and "lowbrow" or the intellectuals and the masses, in other words, the university

serves as the imaginary site of the production of the new version of the old cultural

16 R. P. Blackmur, "A Feather Bed for Critics," Language as Gesture: Essays in
Poetry (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1952): 406. Hereafter F.

17 See, on charity schools and classical curricula, Richard Thompson, Classics or
Charity? The Dilemma of the 18th c. Grammar School (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1971).
John Lawson and Harold Silver, A Social History of Education in England (London:
Methuen and Co., 1973): 177-89. Though Lawson and Silver dispute the relative health of
grammar schools--an argument that Thompson anticipates--they nonetheless agree that the
curricula were designed according to a model that understood literacy among the poor to be
widespread enough to be a threat to the economic well-being of the bourgeoisie. See, on the
various forms of non-traditional grammar schools, Nicholas Hans, New Trends in Education
in the Eighteenth Century (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951); and for an overview
of these various types of institutions, James Bowen, A History of Western Education, 3 vols.
(London: Methuen and Co., 1971): 1: 131-45.


bourgeoisie--among whom literary academics counted themselves--and the cultural apparatus

necessary to support it. While Blackmur and Eliot refer to different moments in the

formation of the "bourgeois public sphere" and hence intellectuals as "classes," they are in

agreement that the model of the literary intellectual be fashioned after a form that occurs

"before" what we have come to call the "structural transformation of the public sphere" in

the nineteenth century (ST 141-80). That is, they are both interested in a moment when even

if incipient "middle class" intellectuals such as journalists exist, they might be regarded as

organic intellectuals of the bourgeoisie, rather than of a more purportedly "democratic," if

intellectually and economically compromised, class.

If we understand the critical sensibility advocated by Eliot and his followers as

reconstituting a simulacral version of the seventeenth- or prestigious eighteenth-century

republic of letters, retooled for the space of the early 20t-century American university, the

position of the novel in its imaginary becomes a little clearer. This is not to say that it's in

any way easy to account for the way that Eliot turns the novel and the novelists into the

apparitions of Evil in After Strange Gods." It does help us to make sense of the repeated

conflation, in the discourse of the New Critics, of poetry and literature, and the particular

aesthetic that they brought to bear on the genre when they spoke of it at all.'9 We can notice,

18 T. S. Eliot, After Strange Gods: A Primer ofModern Heresy (New York: Harcourt,
Brace and Co., 1933): 55-68.

19 One might also see, on the matter of the equivalence of poetry and literature,
Wellek and Warren's Theory of Literature (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1949).
Although they are careful, finally, to distinguish genres that appear as "literary"--novel,
drama, poetry--as opposed to scientific, the generic name that Wellek and Warren use for

in this regard, that the relative silence of American New Critics concerning the novel or

narrative prose fiction has gone very little analyzed, precisely because, by treating the "poet"

or "poetic language" as that which is opposed to "science" or "scientific" language, they

displaced an intra-disciplinary polemic on behalf of minority literary culture and against

"mass culture" (of which the novel was part) for an interdisciplinary one--between

"literature" and science.20 Not until Brooks and Warren's Understanding Fiction (1943) do

literary producer is "poet," and in raising epistemological and ontological questions about
literature, they call "the literary work of art" "a 'poem,'"(141); see also the definition offered
by Rend Wellek in "The Mode of Existence of a Literary Work of Art," Southern Review 7.4
(1942): 735-54. Wellek nominally equates the "literary work of art in general" with poetry
throughout this article, but concludes that one might distinguish the literary work of art by
the fact that it is a "system of [linguistic] norms, realized only partially in the actual
experience of its many readers" (745). This definition, as Wellek himself acknowledges,
might lead to a general theory of genres (745), though he doesn't pursue this in such a way
as to question the implict value of poetry--as opposed to narrative prose--as a substitute name
for literature.

20 The most famous example of this remains Cleanth Brooks' The Well Wrought Urn:
Studies in the Structure ofPoetry (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1947). Hereafter, WWU.
Brooks opens with this famous distinction between poetic and scientific enunciation:
"[T]here is a sense in which paradox is the language appropriate and inevitable to poetry. It
is the scientist whose truth requires a language purged of every trace of paradox; apparently
the truth which the poet utters can be approached only in terms of paradox" (3). While
Brooks is professedly interested in poetry--as might be opposed to prose fiction--he
nonetheless repeatedly displaces this generic difference in favor of the difference between
disciplinary forms of enunciation. For example, in "Criticism, History and Critical
Relativism," Brooks suggests that his methodological insistence on form makes
interdisciplinary forays suspect, since interdisciplinarity itself threatens poetic language with
obsolesence: "But I insist that to treat the poems discussed primarily as poems is a proper
emphasis, and very much worth doing. For we have gone to school to the anthropologists and
the cultural historians assiduously, and we have learned their lesson almost too well. We
have learned it so well that the danger now, it seems to me, is not that we will forget the
differences between poems of different historical periods, but that we may forget those
qualities which they have in common" (197). My argument, in this context, is not that
Brooks or other New Critics never make the generic distinction between poetry and fiction--
indeed, quite the contrary. But considering the opposition between poetry and history or


we find expressed the function of fictional narrative in American New Criticism's

disciplinary and social imaginary. There, the editors write: "Most students read some kind

of fiction of their own free will and for pleasure. Most students do not, except under

academic pressure, read essays or poetry. This contrast may lull a teacher into a false sense

of security when he gives a course in fiction. He does not have to 'make' the student read

fiction... as he has to 'make' the student read poetry, any kind of poetry."21 The coercion

necessary to have students read poetry not only makes "difficulty" into a kind of cultural

capital, it also distinguishes between an object belonging to an ensemble of merely

"everyday" objects and an object whose specific and exclusive conditions of circulation

define its privileged literary status. Although Brooks and Warren warn teachers of fiction

against becoming too secure in the assumption that their primary task comes down to

pointing out the coincidence of the reader's taste and the object's literary quality, they never

question the characterization of the imagined students' practical relations to narrative fiction.

In fact, the entire pedagogy of Understanding Fiction aims to turn the seamless fit between

fiction and their students' pleasure into something closer to the defamiliarized relation

between poetry and the reader wrought by the method of "close analytical reading." The

anthropology that Brooks draws here, on the one hand, and that between poetry and science
(above) on the other, it seems hard not to recognize that "poetry" stands in the semantic place
of a disciplinary name in these descriptions: namely, in the place of the name "literature" or
"English." See, on the assimilation of prose fiction to poetry, and its opposition to science,
John Crowe Ransom, "The Understanding of Fiction," Kenyon Review 12.2(1950): 196-99.
Hereafter, UF.

21Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren, Understanding Fiction (New York: F.S.
Crofts and Co., 1946): vii.

assumption, in other words, is that narrative fiction must be actively made into a literary

object, while, for whatever historical reasons, poetry occupies this place by virtue of its

intrinsic linguistic quality, which accounts for both its "difficulty" and the coercion needed

to get students to read it.22 This imaginary belongs to a classically defined "popular

aesthetic," which, as Bourdieu reminds us, converts the differences between aesthetic objects

into differences in the dispositions of the consumers and the social spaces from which they

operate: "Everything takes place as if the 'popular aesthetic' were based on the affirmation

of the continuity between art and life, which implies a subordination of form to function, or,

one might say, on a refusal of the refusal which is the starting point of the high aesthetic, i.e.,

the clear-cut separation of ordinary dispositions from the specifically aesthetic disposition."23

The function of "close reading," in this context, is to supplement the "natural" cultural

disposition of Brooks and Warren's students with one in which the literary functions as the

22 We might compare, on this point, the introduction to Understanding Poetry, which,
once again, is not interested in distinguishing poetry as literary in distinction to doggerel or
lymeric, but as literary in opposition to other modes of discourse whose purported goal is
information--among others, science. See Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren,
Understanding Poetry (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1960): 1-6. In
"Criticism, History, and the Relevance of Criticism," Brooks does raise the questions about
the distinctions among poems themselves; nonetheless, this gesture is not made to justify
including poetry as something worthy of study in general, but in order to insist on the
methodological importance of evaluation for defining poetic form at all. See Brooks,
"Criticism..." The Well Wrought Urn, 197ff. We can also note that, in "The Reading of
Modem Poetry," Brooks and Warren suggest that, if an audience for modem poetry exists,
its average reader is the literary critic who objects to modernist incomprehensibility, rather
than a reader without literary credentials; see Brooks and Warren, "The Reading of Modem
Poetry," American Review 8 (1938): 435-449.

23 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans.
Richard Nice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984): 32.


literary--that is, according to this definition, as a particular kind of linguistic form. By

reasserting the necessity of this methodology in the context of a pedagogy of fiction, Brooks

and Warren reinstate the principle of"disinterest" lost in the everyday circulation of narrative

fiction, and so make narrative fiction an appropriate object of consumption, even as they

redefine the rather exclusive terms and conditions in which that consumption should occur.

That is, they make evident a very specific labor of appropriation whose conditions are

determined by the specific institutional site in which it occurs--namely, the privileged site

of minority culture, the university.

For American New Critics, with the possible exception of R. P. Blackmur (after

1950), the novel and narrative fiction function in an ensemble of cultural objects regarded

as "everyday"-as "unwrought urns"-with respect to properly academic or aesthetic objects.

Indeed, on the rare occasion that any of the New Critics do speak of narrative before 1950,

the examples are quickly distinguished from those that partake of this "popular" aesthetic--

that is, those that remain indistinguishable from other kinds of degraded "literary" objects--

magazines, pulp fiction, film--or other "non-aesthetic" experiences in general.24 The labor

to "make" these objects into literary objects involves constructing the receptive dispositions

and social positions required for literary reception. As we have seen, for Eliot and Blackmur,

this involves a rather particular historical fantasy that is absent in Brooks and Warren,

although the latter clearly intend to reproduce a fantasmatic social space like the one Eliot

24 For example, Robert Penn Warren, "Katherine Anne Porter (Irony with a Center),"
Kenyon Review 4 (1939): 29-42. Hereafter, KP.


imagines--one at least comprised by the time to undertake "close reading." This absence

alters the form, though not the function, of the "popular" aesthetic that I've been describing

here, and suggests a point at which we can begin to understand the historical "triumph" of

American New Criticism in American universities in the 1950's, as well as the debate

between the New Critics and the New York Intellectuals over the novel. We can begin to

reimagine these events by looking at a description of the process of developing aesthetic

"understanding" offered by British critic I. A. Richards in Principles of Literary Criticism,

first published in 1924. In Richards' text, one might say that the affirmation of the

"continuity between art and life" that occurs in Wellek and Warren as a way of talking about

nonacademic culture appears as a distinction between those who embody a kind of cultured

"intelligence" and those who don't. According to Richards, whose psychology of value

makes aesthetic objects measures of the subjective constitution of the reader, the difference

between the "ordinary experiences" and aesthetic ones comes down to that between

experiences made up of a lesser and greater number of "impulses" which the subject must

reconcile. This distinction, of course, must be supplemented by the subjective process of

reconciliation that comprises the formation of "attitudes." Richards writes:

The result of the coordination of a great number of impulses of different
kinds is very often that no overt action takes place. There is a danger here of
supposing that no action whatever results or that there is something
incomplete or imperfect about such a state of affairs. But imaginal action and
incipient action which does not go so far as actual muscular movement are
more important than overt action in the well-developed human being. Indeed
the difference between the intelligent or refined, and the stupid or crass
person is a difference in the extent to which overt action can be replaced by
incipient and imaginal action. An intelligent man can "see how a thing
works" when a less intelligent man has to "find out by trying." Similarly with
such responses as are aroused by a work of art. The difference between


"understanding" it and failing to do so is, in most cases, a difference between
being able to make the required responses in an imaginal or incipient degree,
adjusting them to one another at that stage, and being unable to produce them
or adjust them except overtly and at their fullest development.25

Richards was one of the bearers of the "revolutionary" institutional reform at Cambridge in

1917 that subverted the ideal of the scholar-gentleman in favor of a persona that, like later

American New Critical counterparts, claimed a rigorous methodology and explicitly political

motives for literary analysis (S 22-28). And we can see the ways that this emphasis on

complex sets of stimuli and responses appears in the work of Cleanth Brooks. In Brooks'

well-known The Well Wrought Urn, for example, he argues that "[t]he essential structure of

a poem.. is a pattern of resolved stresses," and that "the characteristic unity of a poem..

lies in the unification of attitudes into a hierarchy subordinated to a total and governing

attitude.... The conclusion of the poem is the working out of the various tensions.., by

propositions, metaphors, symbols" (WWU 186,189).26 While Brooks and Warren's narrative

pedagogy devotes particular attention to the differences in the labor of consumption inside

and outside the school, Richards' description of attitude-development recasts the pedagogical

process as a class allegory, removing all reference to the process of schooling save for the

language of "understanding." Richards tells the difference between the well-developed and

the stupid as the difference between the engineer and the mechanic, between symbolic and

251. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism, 10th ed. (London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul, 1948): 110-111.

26 See also, on the point of Richards' importance for Brooks' defense of the New
Critical aesthetic and its canon revisions, Brooks, "Three Revolutions in Poetry: III.
Metaphysical Poetry and the Ivory Tower," Southern Review 1 (1935-36): 568-83.

practical mastery.27 The labor of understanding requires not only access to objects complex

enough to be considered "aesthetic," but also to the learned disposition to reconcile one's

responses in such a way as to make the labor to acquire and practice that disposition

invisible, or at least distinguishable from mechanical labor. We might think of this as the

distinction between those who can mechanically comprehend narrative and those who can

and do "read" narrative in a "close, analytical way," in such a way as to "see how it works."

In the context of Eliot's and Brooks and Warren's generic admonitions, Richards' allegorical

description of "development" reminds us how consistently the work of New Criticism

attributes historical value not only to the object of study but also to those who reproduce its

value institutionally, all the while rigorously suspending reference to audience or reception.28

27 Like Richards, John Crowe Ransom accomplishes this distinction in purely
negative terms--namely, of the aesthetic and the non-aesthetic, of intellectual and practical
mastery, of "direct action" and its opposite, aesthetic contemplation. Moreover, he describes
this difference in historical and economic terms: "Societies of the old order seemed better
aware of the extent of their responsibilities. Along with the work-forms went the play-forms,
which were elaborate in detail, and great in number, fastening upon so many of the common
and otherwise practical occasions of life and making them occasions ofjoy and reflection,
even festivals and celebrations; yet at the same time by no means a help but if anything a
hindrance to direct action. The aesthetic forms are a technique of restraint, not of efficiency.
... They stand between the individual and his natural object and impose a check upon his
action.... To the concept of direct action the old society--the directed and hierarchical one--
opposed the concept of aesthetic experience, as a true opposite, and checked the one in order
to induce the other." See John Crowe Ransom, "Forms and Citizens," The World's Body
(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1965): 31.

28 One might see, on this point, Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron,
Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture, trans. Richard Nice, 2nd ed. (London: Sage
Publications, 1990): 39. "If it is not seen that PW [pedagogic work] produces indissolubly
both the legitimate product as such, i.e. as an object worthy of being materially or
symbolically consumed (i.e. venerated, adored, respected, admired, etc.), and the propensity
to consume this object materially or symbolically, one is condemned to interminable
speculation as to the priority of the veneration or the venerable . that is, to oscillate

Eliot's narrative of dissociated sensibility, for example, as we have seen, moves back and

forth between justifying the value of a particular set of poems and prescribing a subjective

disposition required of both the poet and critic that corresponds to these poems' historical

space of production. The same might be said, mutatis mutandis, of both Blackmur and--with

important historical qualifications to which I will return--Brooks and Warren. But when the

particular valuations that Eliot prescribed and Cleanth Brooks repeated no longer held, when,

that is, the New Critical imaginary began to lose a specificity of its political and aesthetic

content, due, in fact, to statements like Brooks' famous definition of the "heresy of

paraphrase" in The Well Wrought Urn (1947), then the New Criticism became extremely

vulnerable to the charge of formalism.29 By defending the poem as a linguistic object with

between trying to deduce the dispositions towards the object from the intrinsic properties of
the object and trying to reduce the properties of the object to the properties conferred on it
by the dispositions of the subject. In reality, PW produces agents endowed with the adequate
disposition who can apply it only to certain objects: and objects which appear to the agents
produced by PW as calling forth or demanding the adequate disposition."

29 "The word for our generation," wrote John Crowe Ransom "in these [religious,
aesthetic, and social] matters is 'formal.'" See Ransom, The World's Body, 42. "Formalism"
was clearly already being felt as a charge during the war, as is evidenced by the defense of
criticism offered by Theodore Spencer in "The Central Problem of Literary Criticism,"
College English 4.3 (1942): 159-163; and by the refusal of the "formalism" of literary
polemic for literature as the "unique and formed intelligence of the world of which man alone
is capable" by Allen Tate in "The Present Function of Criticism," Reason in Madness (New
York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1941): 19 (my emphasis). It should be said, in this context, that
the question of"formalism" also got covered during the war as a general question for literary
studies and the humanities insofar as they were resistant to the ideological and technical
necessities of wartime production; see James T. Farrell, "Literature and Ideology," College
English 3.7 (1942): 611-623; and Harold R. Walley, "Literature and Crisis," College English
3.2 (1941): 149-157. On New Critical formalism see also Herbert J. Muller, "The Critic
Behind Barbed Wire," Saturday Review of Literature 25 Sep. 1943: 3+; Darrel Abel,
"Intellectual Criticism," American Scholar 12.4 (1943): 414-28; Cleanth Brooks, "The New

no particular ideological or historical differences from anything other than science--and a

"science" conspicuously devoid of content--Brooks theoretically lost the ground on which

to privilege particular poems, or to privilege poetry over any other generic form, including

narrative fiction, film, or journalism. He thereby left American New Critics without an

argument that might legitimate the functions of academic culture in describing the

distinctions between genres or between mass and minority culture at all. Indeed, one might

note that what Northrop Frye would describe in his rather anxious magnum opus, The

Anatomy of Criticism (1957) as the "power vacuum" in literary criticism derives from the

loss of this function in critical practice altogether.30

Criticism: A Brief for the Defense," American Scholar 13.3 (1944): 285-95. Strangely
enough, in Brooks' defense of formalist criticism he concedes the point by virtue of his
choice of object-which, he indicates, is entirely immaterial to the procedure of reading. See
also idem, "The Formalist Critics," Kenyon Review 13 (1951): 72-81; hereafter FC. As if to
suggest how seamlessly formalism had become equated with the New Critics' institutional
position, Van Wyck Brooks lamented the school's "excess of the academic" in describing
this aspect of their work. See Brooks, "On Certain Critics, The Writer in America (New
York: E.P. Dutton, 1953): 1-31; here 14.

30 See Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton: Princeton, NJ,
1957): 3-29; here 12. For Frye, the accomplishment of the distinction between the valuation
of objects and the methodology of studying them necessitated trying to articulate a
"systematic" if not "scientific" theory of literary production which took its cue from "an
inductive survey of the field" (7). Absent a narrative that would justify his choice of literary
object, in other words, Frye undertook the improbable task of reading, comprehending and
classifying everything. And, as opposed to many New Critics who took the poetic and critical
dispositions to be coextensive, Frye insisted that criticism had a particular privilege for
talking about poetry--his generic term for the literary production--that poets could not match:
"Criticism can talk, and all the arts are dumb.... To defend the right of criticism to exist at
all, therefore is to assume that criticism is a structure of thought and knowledge existing in
its own right, with some measure of independence from the art it deals with" (4-5).


In the context of these observations we can see that there is an historically intimate

relation between the "popular aesthetic" of the novel, the disciplinary and institutional

imaginary we have been describing, and the historical vulnerability-and, paradoxically, the

victory-of American New Criticism. Gerald Graffdates the disciplinary "triumph" of New

Criticism to the publication of Reuben Brower's Fields of Light in 1951, a book that uses

New Critical formal methodology, but without attaching it to any cultural or historical

narrative important to New Critical canon revisions (P 150). Graff's judgment is

understandable enough, as one of the conditions of the widespread acceptance of New

Critical close reading in American schools was its disavowal of the political judgments that

justified its cultural evaluations. And even at their most judgmental, New Critical polemics

against science and "mass society" were never far from a formal, aesthetic critique, a fact that

can be corroborated by observing that the "science" that Brooks and Eliot ranted against was

utterly devoid of content, as was the "mass civilization" against which they implicitly or

explicitly posed a minority culture.31 In this context, Brooks and Warren's pedagogy remains

noteworthy not because it drops away the evaluative function of criticism or because it

revalues objects that fall outside the purlieu of most other New Criticism, but because it

attaches their aesthetic to a particular historical institution--namely, the school.32 That is,

31 For these reasons, Grant Webster calls the American New Critics "Tory
Formalists" from the beginning of their formation as a group. See Webster, The Republic of
Letters: A History ofPostwar American Literary Opinion (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1979):
63-93. Hereafter, RL.
32 Francis Mulhem suggests that curricular reform at Cambridge had very much the
same orientation. In the reform of English studies at Cambridge, he writes, "Interests and
capacities that had formerly been deemed the natural property of any cultivated individual
were now to become the staple of an academic discipline." Mulhern, Moment of Scrutiny,


Brooks and Warren suggest that the act of reading transforms degraded narrative into

literature, and literary narrative into the object of close reading by virtue of the location,

rather than the disposition, of the reader. This has a particular strategic importance on a

disciplinary level, for by doing this Brooks and Warren can include narrative fiction in the

body of objects of study without opening up the entire field of"popular" culture to scholastic

inspection. By a kind of curious tautology, this formula makes the distinction between

popular and literary form out of the social location of its reception--as if schooled culture

were coextensive with "literary" culture itself--even as it legitimates the school as the only

site for making this distinction.

If the "triumph" of American New Criticism coincides with the evacuation of the

particular political and aesthetic evaluations that were at one moment so important for it,

then we can understand this triumph as marking both an institutional opening for struggles

over narrative fiction and popular culture, and an anxious assertion against its value and for

the privilege of the school as an apparatus of cultural transmission. On the one hand, the

emergence of"popular culture" studies in the 40's demonstrated the necessity to defend both

literary form and its site of reproduction. On the other, the formalism of the New Critics

actually made it difficult to defend against examining popular culture, even if they didn't

want to engage in the Marxist or crypto-Marxist critiques of its degraded form. However

reactionary their positions might appear in retrospect, they were not alone in the way they

imagined the function of the novel and the space of literary culture, especially after the

second world war. Indeed, although they disagreed with the New York intellectuals about

the importance of narrative fiction and the novel, and although they took their cues from


wholly different sets of historical events, the New Critics nonetheless shared many of the

assumptions that the New York intellectuals would come to hold about its political and

aesthetic functions-and about the function of a literary aesthetic in general. The New York

intellectuals' positions, however, have to be understood in the context of political and

historical events of the 1930's and 40's that effect the change of anti-Stalinist leftists into

American cold war anticommunist liberals, and the migration of intellectuals advocating

proletarian aesthetics into modernist, sometimes academic, avant gardes.

From the Realism of Experience to the End of Ideology

The name "New York intellectuals" began as a kind of euphemism for Trotskyist

sympathizers during the 1930's and 40's, and only later did it come to name the left-liberal

critics associated with Commentary, Partisan Review, and Dissent. The use of the name grew

more common only after most of the members of the group-many of whom were not from

New York-had achieved some recognition and gained some influence in literary circles, that

is, only after they had jettisoned their Marxist or Trotskyist politics. As Alan Wald has

suggested, it was their migration from left anti-Stalinism to liberal anticommunism between

the 1930's to the 1950's that solidified their identity as a group. And although this journey

was different for each of them, the movement itself was occasioned by the same events: the

Moscow trials, the Hitler-Stalin pact, the second world war, and the postwar communist

witch hunts.33 These events, taken together with the apparent successes of the postwar

33 See Webster, The Republic of Letters, 209-51; Alan Wald, The New York
Intellectuals: the Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930's to the 1980's
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987); Thomas Hill Schaub, American
Fiction in the Cold War (Madison: University of Winsconsin Press, 1991): 3-24.


economy, had a chilling effect on the political left in the United States. The agony of the

American left, as Christopher Lasch once called it, registered in the intellectual corps in their

inability to maintain an anti-Stalinism that didn't get swallowed up in the rhetoric of anti-

communism tout court, in their easy acceptance of political liberalism, and in their

subsequent "alienated" positions, contrived out of aesthetic, rather than political resistance.34

The trajectory of the New York intellectuals' literary migration passes through the

novel as the quintessentially realist literary genre. If, for the New Critics, poetry was

essentially dramatic and stood for literature as resisting the "realist" tendency toward

historical referentiality or "content" (the heresy of paraphrase, the didactic heresy), for the

New York intellectuals, the novel's social realism was an indispensable part of its

importance. But in the postwar cultural climate, the "realist" aesthetic of the proletarian novel

was insufficient to the "facts" and complexities of liberal culture and experience. As Philip

Rahv suggested in his critique of "proletarian literature," the working class aesthetic

advocated by the left and the Communist Party in the 1930's was without aesthetic principle

and establishede] no defensible frontiers.., between art and politics"; it amounted to a kind

of "mystification" which, by the late 1930s was, he said, thankfully in decline.35 Indeed,

Rahv argued that its decline was a direct effect of the political context in which it existed:

34 Christopher Lasch, The Agony of the American Left (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
1969): 35-59.

35 Philip Rahv, "Proletarian Literature: A Political Autopsy," Essays on Literature
and Politics 1932-1972 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1978): 295; 301.


The novel is the pre-eminent example of experiential art; and to falsify the
experiential terms in which it realizes itself is infinitely more difficult than
to falsify abstract reasoning. Whereas politics summarizes social experience,
the novel subjects it to an empiric analysis. Hence the test of the novel is
more rigorous, less at the mercy of manipulation and rhetorical depravity.
Proletarian fiction cannot maintain its identity while following its political
leadership into an alliance with capitalist democracy. (303)

Although Rahv was one of the New York intellectuals least given to political apostasy, he

nonetheless recognized, in a piece published that same year (1939) in Partisan Review, that

"[t]he revolution may have sunk out of sight and the intelligentsia may be sticking close to

their paymaster-mentors, but the impulse to represent experience truthfully persists.... If

one is to be equal to the contemporary subject matter, one cannot shut one's eyes to the

unruly presence that beset it."36 Indeed, "experience" was to become the watchword of

criticism of fiction, even for those given to more noticeable political vacillations. But this

experience was to be distinguished from the experience of political "conversion" that was

implied in the proletarian aesthetic. Indeed, this "experience" goes quite noticeably

unspecified, despite-or rather because of-its claim to be "realist" in a "liberal" age, as it

resists the easy appropriation of political agendas that do more than affirm liberal pluralist

form. Irving Howe suggests, in Politics and the Novel, for example, that even the political

novel does not have as its function to "alter" so much as "complicate" political commitments

and beliefs. "I find it hard to imagine," Howe wrote, "a serious socialist being dissuaded from

his belief by a reading of The Possessed, though I should like equally to think that the quality

36 Philip Rahv, "Twilight of the Thrities: Passage from an Editorial,"Essays on
Literature: 305

and nuance of that belief can never be quite as they were before he read The Possessed.""37

Or, to take another example, Lionel Trilling argues in The Liberal Imagination that

liberalism is the "sole" intellectual tradition in America and that it sets great store by

variousnesss and possibility"; hence, the "job of criticism would seem to be... to recall

liberalism to its first essential imagination of variousness and possibility, which implies

awareness of complexity and difficulty." For this task, literature has a special place, Trilling

argues, as "literature has explicitly directed itself upon politics, but more importantly because

literature is the human activity that takes the fullest and most precise account of variousness,

possibility, complexity and difficulty." In the context of this liberalist aesthetic, Trilling

argues that the most needed form of fiction is "moral realism," whose most effective agent

has been the novel; we need it, Trilling says, because it complicates our commonplace sense

of realism in favor of a view of human "variety" and complexity, in favor of a recognition

that manner or style might be something other than customs heaped on top of some bedrock

"real" experience.38

Certainly, as others have noted, there's a striking similarity between these

formulations' emphasis on "nuance," variousnesss, possibility, complexity and difficulty"

and the New Critical shibboleths of "paradox," "tension," and irony, and this fact certainly

did not go unnoticed by these critics themselves. In fact, this similarity develops into a source

of contention between certain of these critics and precipitates an important impasse in the

"Irving Howe, Politics and the Novel (New York: Horizon Press, 1957): 22.

3 Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society (New
York: Viking, 1950): ix; xv; 222; hereafter LI.

"debate" over the novel. Trilling's "The Meaning of a Literary Idea," first published in 1949

and then reprinted in The Liberal Imagination, no doubt responds, on one level, to Brooks'

"Heresy of Paraphrase" argument in The Well-Wrought Urn. Much of Trilling's argument,

ostensibly aimed at retrieving "ideas" out of their associations with ideology and unfeeling

intellectuals, takes its cue from criticisms ofT. S. Eliot and Wellek and Warren's Theory of

Literature; but Trilling does not take issue with the "use" of ideas, so much as they way they

are misrepresented and suspended from reference to social life. He suggests that "literature

is of its nature involved with ideas because it deals with man in society" (LI 282). In

response, Brooks suggested, in an essay defining "formalist" articles of faith, that it would

be difficult to distinguish his and Trilling's positions regarding literary form and how it

works with ideas and reality, that "recalcitrant stuff of life." "In short," Brooks writes, "is

not the formalist critic trying to describe in terms of the dynamic form of the work itself how

the recalcitrancy of the material is acknowledged and dealt with?" (FC 80). Trilling had no

response. Within the year, John Crowe Ransom took up the case of narrative fiction in "The

Understanding of Fiction," an essay nominally dedicated to evaluating Philip Rahv's Image

and Idea; like Brooks and Robert Penn Warren before him, Ransom simply flattened out

generic questions and treated narratives as "fictional analogues of lyrical moments" (UF

193). In doing so, he appealed to the "primitive" experience still shared by modem man as

a way of justifying his indifference to literary form (UF 192). Rahv's response, "Fiction and

the Criticism of Fiction" (1956), marks the uneasiness of the New York intellectuals'

positions on aesthetic matters. Like Ransom, Rahv complains that there has been no theory

of narrative fiction whose tools are as "satisfactory in their exactness" as are those developed


for poetry. Unlike Ransom, he is adamant that symbolist, mythological, formalist and

technical methods of criticism will not suffice to account for narrative fiction. But Rahv's

rejoinder ultimately appeals to the novel's "empiricism," and the "referential" quality of its

language for this theory. For instance, in response to Robert W. Stallman's symbolic and

mythological reading of "The Red Badge of Courage," Rahv writes:

If the typical error of the thirties was the failure to distinguish between
literature and life, in the present period that error has been inverted into the
failure to percieve their close and necessary relationship. Hence the effort we
are now witnessing to overcome the felt reality of art by converting it into
some kind of schematism of spirit.... It is as if critics were saying that the
representation of experience, which is the primary asset of the novel, is a
mere appearance; the really and truly real is to be discovered somewhere else,
at some higher level beyond appearance. The novel, however, is the most
empirical of all literary genres; existence is its original and inalienable datum;
its ontology . is 'naive,' commonsensical, positing no split between
appearance and reality.39

Although, in the case of Ransom, Rahv recognizes that formalism is "deeply imbedded" in

the history of literary criticism, he still objects that the function of literary language in

narrative is never the same as in poetry (FCF 291). Citing Christopher Caudwell, Rahv

argues that the language of poetry is affective and associative, while that of the novel or

narrative is referential: hence, its empirical power. But Rahv offers nothing in the way of a

definition of the novel as a literary genre that has a commonsense ontology as its

distinguishing trait: while he can say what it isn't on the level of form, he can't say what it

is except as a "stance" toward reality.

39 Philip Rahv, "Fiction and the Criticism of Fiction," Kenyon Review 18.2 (1956):
285-86; hereafter FCF.


We might understand the impasse presented by the novel by recalling that the

revolutionary aesthetic adopted by the Communist party and the American Trotskyites in the

30's is the precise obverse of the New Critical popular aesthetic described by Brooks and

Warren. While the New Critics took the "mass appeal" and wide dissemination of the novel

as a sign of its "degraded" character, and designed to rescue it by academic appropriation,

the New York intellectuals took those qualities as enabling its political functions, but had to

eschew the affirmation of the continuity of art and life as a requisite step in their political

liberalization. The anxiety about the social and intellectual consequences of this change

manifests itself in Howe's "This Age of Conformity,"40 but short of the revolutionary

aesthetic of the 30's, the New York intellectuals critical purchase on "reality" could be gotten

only by reference to dialectically nuanced "experience" or empiricist realism. Neither of

these options was particularly satisfactory, since neither addressed the still lingering political

ambitions of even the most apostate of the intellectuals. As Trilling would write in his essay

on the literary magazine, "[o]ur liberal ideology has produced a large literature of social and

political protest, but not, for several decades, a single writer that commands our real literary

imagination." But those figures that do command literary interest-Trilling lists Proust,

Joyce, Lawrence, Eliot, Yeats, Mann, Kafka, Gide, Rilke-don't "love... justice" in such

a way as "liberal democracy, as known by our educated class, has declared respectable" (LI

98). Either way, he says, "there is no connection between the political ideas of our educated

40 Irving Howe, "This Age of Conformity," Partisan Review 21.1 (1954): 7-33.


class and the deep places of the imagination," or, less euphemistically, between the

intellectuals' political longings and literary form-novelistic or otherwise (LI 99).

One of the reasons the "realist" aesthetic is so at home with New Critical formalism

is that its purchase on "reality" is circumscribed by political assumptions that are displaced

in aesthetic ones. New Critical advocacy of literary value, we recall, relied on stripping away

a series of "heresies" from literary form even as it maintained them at another level: Eliot,

for example, had wanted literature to be Christian, but in the Amoldian sense, in which it

would function as substitute for Christian orthodoxy with no Christian contents. When New

Critics jettisoned the narrative of the dissociation of sensibility and Christian culture, they

were doing without what was not supposed to be there anyway, carrying on a "tradition" that

was supposed not to interfere with evaluation or reading in the first place.4" Likewise, the

New York intellectuals criticism on behalf of "realism" presents itself as being empty of

ideological content, that is, of having gotten rid of the distorting lens of Marxist or Trotskyist

visions of history. But, like the Christianity that Eliot wanted so earnestly to sublate in a

nonetheless depersonalized and scientifically established canon, the proletarian Marxism of

the thirties serves as the never-to-be-spoken-about content of this deracinated, "realist"

liberal aesthetic: that is, it's an aesthetic that would do social criticism without its primary

theory of social relations.

41 This conundrum is expressed, among other places, in the notion of an "ideal
reader," which was supposed to explain away, in the absence of a legitimating narrative of
literary value or procedure, the specific conditions of literary reception and circulation by
referring to normative "standards" of reading. See, for one version of this argument, Cleanth
Brooks, "The Formalist Critics," 74-76.


In this sense, the New York intellectuals' realist aesthetic embodies a political

"realism," one that takes for granted the equivalence ofanti-Stalinism and anti-communism,

the death of Marxism as a viable political philosophy, and the inherent fairness of capitalist

democracy. As Thomas Hill Schaub and Alan Wald have argued, the position is the effect

of the experience of the "end of ideology" in the postwar period.42 The intellectuals' appeals

to "complex," "ironic," or "paradoxical" experience, to variousnesss and possibility" respond

to this historical necessity by affirming the still undefined continuities between social

experience and ideology, life and ideas; they assent, that is, to the political necessity of the

death of actually existing American Marxism and its requisite transformation of their

aesthetic imaginary. But at the same time, they long for something else, for some other way

of talking about literature and social reality that isn't either simply "ideological"-that is, in

this context, Marxist--and not to be subsumed by questions of form. One might say that, if

for the American New Critics the conundrums of literary reception were condensed into

fantasies about the social location of the reader and the vagaries of form then for the New

York intellectuals, the specific social relations that inhere in literary reception are defined

negatively in relation to political liberalism. On the one hand, they can no longer assume that

the political continuity between art and life subtending the proletarian novel either does or

42 Daniel Bell writes, of the generation of the thirties, that theyhy were intense,
hortatory, naive, simplistic, and passionate, but, after the Moscow Trials and the Soviet-Nazi
pact, disenchanted and reflective; and from them and their experiences we have inherited the
key terms which dominate discourse today: irony, paradox, ambiguity, complexity." See
Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology (Glencoe: Free Press, 1960): 286-99; 335-75; here 287;
hereafter E. Schaub, American Fiction in the Cold War, 25-49; Wald, The New York
Intellectuals, 228-49; Robert Booth Fowler, Believing Skeptics: American Political
Intellectuals, 1945-64 (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1978): 3-39; 121-148.


should exist; on the other, they can't simply rely on the defamiliarized, scholastic relations

that characterize the New Critics vision of the novel. Without, that is, some way of imagining

the precise relations of literary production and reception, the New York intellectuals can only

appeal to the liberal canard of "freedom" as a way of talking about the social conditions in

which the novel makes any sense.

On an institutional level, Watt's The Rise of the Novel answers to precisely this

impasse, offering a definition of "realism" that is both formal and historically specific, and

drawing on a sociological tradition whose relation to political economy and Marxism are

evident, even if they are not immediately clear. But before we approach Watt's text in

particular, it's worth considering what's at stake in staging this entrance of the sociology of

knowledge into literary debates about the novel. As I've argued, for both the New Critics and

the New York intellectuals, literary value accrues in social contexts, though over the course

of their histories, these contexts are more or less sublimated, more or less "euphemized" by

the critics themselves. The New Critics' anxiety about science, mass cultural form, and

undefined protocols of reading are formulaic responses to questions about both the cultural

authority of literary knowledge and the conditions of literary reception. Up until 1950, and

even after that for all but R. P. Blackmur, these problems pass through the novel as a kind

of limit-object for their otherwise poetic aesthetic, and through the school as the location of

social distinction. For the New York intellectuals the aesthetic of experiential and empirical

realism derives from the political "realism" necessary in the liberal climate of the cold war;

the aesthetic of the novel relies on a vision of social location that is collapsed with political

position in the 30's, and mediated by "experience" in the 40's and 50's. Moreover, for more