Critique in a Time of Vulnerability

Dina Al-Kassim
Comparative Literature
UC Irvine

Despite the University of California’s well-earned reputation as a historic center for the production of critical theory–Michel Foucault, Theodor Adorno, Jacques Derrida, Michel de Certeau, Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick, Achille Mbembe and Gayatri Spivak have all taught in the UC system–there exists no organized or institutionally recognized body to support and foster conversations between the campuses in this wide-ranging and interdisciplinary field of research, a field which has been a pre-eminent feature of the scholarly contribution of the UC’s in the Arts, the Sciences and the Humanities. Critical theorists at UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz, formed a working group in critical theory in order to begin the process of building upon existing inter-campus affiliations, connections and networks in critical theory with the ultimate purpose of writing a proposal with special emphasis in Critical Theory for the UC Humanities Initiative MRG program.

We joined together faculty who teach in the critical theory emphases at UCB and UCI with members of two ORU’s at UCSC and UCI. UC Berkeley’s focus on the timeliness of critique led us in the direction of conserving and preserving critique itself as a necessary component of community, as if the critical stance or critical theory were at risk. Such a posture of conserving critique in the project of inquiring into core values summons a fundamental language of the humanities but in a contemporary idiom attuned to greater social and political inclusiveness and what Foucault would call “practices of freedom.” The UCSC project–Rethinking Capital–invited humanists to engage with economists to uncover the theological and political unconscious of new fiscal instruments whose violence we now experience. This project of rethinking capital from within its own innovation and improvisation carried as well the genealogical sense of critique expressed in the UC Berkeley CTE emphasis mission statement. Awareness of the history of critique and its engagement with aesthetico-political realities frames the Critical Theory Institute at UCI proposal of “poor theory,” as a strategy to perpetuate critique, including the criticism of existing modes of capital, in the interstices of global and local culture and politics. These affinities between the articulated projects and mission statements of three distinct campuses should come as no surprise.